This issue is about regulations and their impact on you in material handling. Compliance, however, addresses any kind of legal action or happening (such as elevator legislation or postal edict) that might change the way you do business. And most of them don’t fit into neat categories.

Like the memo from OSHA’s director of enforcement, Richard E. Fairfax, that says you won’t have to have seat belts on lift trucks “if the possibility of tipover is remote.” The memo called for comments and the deadline hasn’t been reached yet. Fairfax probably is in no hurry, but some of you are concerned. You know that tipover isn’t the only reason to have seat belts on lift trucks, so you’re waiting for clarification.

Impact on you: Makes a difference how you train your lift truck operators. The standard says to train for the operator’s environment. Seat belts or not? Next, there’s no decision from the judge in the Lemelson suit; the case is still going on. You may recall that the “doctrine of laches” was allowed as part of the prosecution of the case, after being disallowed in a lower court. (“Doctrine of laches” means that you can’t drag out a legal action to get some advantage.) The suit was filed by a number of manufacturers of bar code equipment against the Lemelson Foundation, which holds patents on automatic identification equipment.

Impact on you: A Lemelson win would allow the Foundation to collect royalties on patents for automatic identification systems in industries the Foundation hasn’t even touched yet — maybe yours is among them.

Next, premiums for health care are a factor that’s built into many economic justification programs and are a subject that Compliance addresses regularly. “A significant problem in the material handling industry is the increase in the premiums for health care,” says Tom Carbott, Material Handling Industry’s executive for the Ergonomic Assist Systems and Equipment Council. “Every manufacturing company, regardless of size, is looking at an increase in 2003 of between 15 percent and 50 percent.” Carbott says one of the ways that a company can reduce insurance premiums is to have an active ergonomics program. EASE members will be exhibiting at ProMat in Chicago, February 10-13. Also, the Ergonomics Center of North Carolina will be presenting a program on manual material handling at ProMat.

Impact on you: Don’t wait for your industry to get its ergonomics guidelines published by OSHA. Ergonomics pays off in reduced health care costs as well as a lot of other benefits. And Carbott’s warnings about rate increases are a reality.

Finally, is there a need for a conveyor standard? George Schultz, the consultant, thinks so. Schultz has been working since the ’70s trying to convince OSHA’s management that it doesn’t have “any conveyor safety regulations in 29CFR 1910 equivalent to those they have in place covering cranes and lift trucks, defining the owners’ responsibilities.” Consequently, says Schultz, safety will continue to suffer and conveyor manufacturers will continue to be at the mercy of plaintiffs’ attorneys.

Schultz’s proposed conveyor standard (CFR 1910.186 Conveyors) would be divided into four sections:

• Equipment and System Safety;

• Personnel Safety;

• Operations and Maintenance;

• Employee and Training.

Impact on you: Unfortunately for Schultz, OSHA seems unlikely to devote any resources to promulgating any new equipment standards. Any document that comes from this agency will either be an industry guideline (poultry, health care, etc.) or something related very specifically to ergonomics.

Let’s see how many answers we get in 2003.