April 26th, 2002

Senators Push for More Ergonomics from OSHA

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Just after repealing the ergonomics rules enacted by the Clinton administration last year, both the House and the Senate set out to promulgate workplace ergonomics rules. S. 598 introduced on March 22, 2001 by Louisiana Sens. Breaux and Mary Landrieu , Sens. Max Cleland (D-Ga.), Tim Johnson (D- S.D.), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Zell Miller (D-Ga.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), and H.R. 1241 introduced on March 27, 2001 by Sens. John, Houghton, Tanner, Cramer, and Dooley of California, and also Sens. Spratt and Carson of Oklahoma sought “To provide for the reissuance of a rule relating to ergonomics.”

While neither bill resulted in action, on April 24, 2002, Senators John Breaux (D-LA) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) joined by 25 other senators introduced a bi-partisan bill (S. 2184) that would require the Department of Labor to issue a new ergonomics standard within 2 years.

This action follows a Senate Labor Committee hearing in which Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao and OSHA Administrator John Henshaw defended the administration’s current approach to workplace ergonomics.

Democrats on the committee complained that 13 months after the repeal of the Clinton rule, the administration had not developed a single guideline, had no timetable for issuing them, had not identified which industries would receive them, and had no viable enforcement strategy to go after companies that ignore the voluntary guidelines.

“What we have here is a plan for a plan,” charged Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn. “Why did it take you a year to come up with a plan for a plan?”

At the hearing, Chao announced that OSHA had identified nursing homes as the first industry that will receive specific guidelines to reduce musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

Committee members also questioned the effectiveness of the program given that OSHA’s budget for 2003 was cut by almost 10 percent.

Henshaw answered this by pledging that OSHA will be able “to do more with less” by more efficient management. OSHA plans to increase the number of inspections next year and through Web-based training expects to reach more people even while spending less money.



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