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WASHINGTON -- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration plans to publish a proposed ergonomics standard next summer if Congress permits it to do so.

OSHA Administrator Charles Jeffress said during a speech last week to representatives of the poultry industry that OSHA would pursue a "program oriented" rule. That means employers that were covered by an ergonomics rule would have to determine whether they did indeed face ergonomics hazards and then find ways to address those.

Mr. Jeffress said OSHA was still wrestling with the scope of the proposed rule but assured his listeners that the federal agency would not try a "one size fits all" approach, according to a written copy of the speech to the safety and health committee of the National Turkey Federation and the National Broiler Council.

OSHA has intended to issue some sort of ergonomics standard since 1992, but Congress has repeatedly blocked it from doing so. The current Congress has not yet specifically forbidden OSHA from putting forth a proposal next year.

Employers have repeatedly criticized the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's efforts and questioned whether adequate scientific evidence exists to justify imposing an ergonomics standard.

During his address, Mr. Jeffress also discussed the particular hazards facing workers in the poultry industry, which OSHA surveyed about working conditions last

year (BI, Sept. 29, 1997).

Mr. Jeffress said that whereas officials thought that repetitive motion problems would be the biggest safety issue facing the industry, the survey found that back injuries accounted for approximately 40% of poultry workplace injuries.

He urged his audience of poultry industry health and safety officials to make "simple, common-sense fixes."

Among Mr. Jeffress' suggestions are keeping plant floors clean of fat and water and giving workers high-traction boots to cut down on slips and falls that cause back injuries.