Almost a dozen of the country’s leading ergonomists are boycotting an OSHA-sponsored event this week in Washington, DC protesting what they say is the Bush administration’s distortion of science for political ends.
In a letter to OSHA, the 11 scientists said the conference will only rehash questions which have already been researched, answered and resolved. They say the administration does not want companies to deal with the high costs of workers' compensation for such workplace injuries so they disregard the accepted research and pretend that more work needs to be done.
"We were invited to participate in a symposium that isn't necessary," said David Wegman, dean of the School of Health and Environment at the University of Massachusetts - Lowell. Another scientist who is refusing to attend, Barbara Silverstein, an epidemiologist for the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, said that she and the other protesting scientists accuse the administration of purposely continuing the debate about ergonomic injuries even though the issue of how workers are injured has largely been resolved. She called the Bush administration’s conference and attitude “a stalling tactic.”
Through a spokesperson, OSHA’s deputy administrator Gary Visscher, defended the meeting, saying that it will cover ‘new ground,’ and that new material is coming out continually. According to the National Academies of Science, at least 1 million American workers suffer significant work related injuries due to repetitive motion-type activities and vibration. Truck drivers are particularly prone to such injuries because of loading and unloading trucks and continuous driving.
Public health groups have argued for federal rules to protect and compensate injured workers but many business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and American Trucking Assns., oppose such rules saying the science is not yet on solid footing. They call for more research.