Vol. 47, No. 10
Workplace Safety's Ergonomics Twist
The states that are in the best position to act on workplace safety and health issues are those with strong federal ties on such matters. These so-called state-plan states—25 of them plus Puerto Rico—have federally approved and supported occupational safety and health plans. Former head of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Patrick Tyson explains:
"State-plan states have their own mini-OSHAs, each with their own authorizing legislation. Their laws tend to mirror the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act, but they all have their own independent standard-setting authority. According to the act, they have to have standards that are at least as effective as the federal. Becoming a state-plan state is a difficult process to go through, but if they do qualify, OSHA matches their funding dollar-for-dollar. They can have standards that surpass the federal, or they can have standards where OSHA doesn't have any."
All of the states that are now proceeding with their own ergonomics proposals—except Rhode Island—are state-plan states.
States without their own plans are pre-empted from acting in areas where the federal government has a standard. Since the federal government has no ergonomics standard at present, states can set their own standards, although the legal authority is unclear, Tyson says. "It's difficult," he says, "but not impossible."