From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Democratic Presidential Candidates Favor New Look at Workplace Ergonomics

One of George W. Bush’s first acts on becoming United States president was to annul the brand new ergonomics standard of the Occupational Safety and Healthy Administration (OSHA), which was introduced by his Democratic predecessor, and issue voluntary guidelines in its place. A poll in The Hill, a publication that covers White House and Congressional political news, suggests workplace ergonomics will be back on the national agenda if a Democrat wins the top job.

The original regulation covered work practices, protective equipment and job hazard analysis, plus administrative and engineering controls that included changes in work stations, equipment and tools. Ten years in the making, it was designed to reduce the risk factors for work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). These affect many parts of the body, particularly the back, neck, shoulders, arms, elbows, wrists and fingers. They represent a drain on the economy as some one-third of 1.8 million cases per year are serious enough to warrant absence from work.

According to an follow-up article on the annulment in an August 2005 issue of The Ergonomics Report™, the business and manufacturing community began fuming as soon as the effort to develop the regulation began. They argued it would cost them anywhere from $20 billion to more than $100 billion a year. There were dire warnings from business associations that a federal ergonomics standard would foretell the collapse of capitalism.

Polled in The Hill, former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) said the president’s voluntary guidelines have left workers exposed. “As president, I will make [the act] law,” he said.

Like Edwards, candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) opposed overturning the ergonomics standard, according to the same article. “Clinton supports the ergonomics rules established by the Clinton administration and reversed by President Bush in 2000,” said a spokesman for the campaign.

The campaign of Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill) said he would “reinstate OSHA’s ergonomics rule” while supporting a policy protecting small businesses that might be adversely affected by a new regulation.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) have laid out systematic plans to reduce workplace MSDs.

The one naysayer is Sen. Joseph Biden Jr.  (D-Del). He does not favor a new standard, he said in the article. “We don’t need new initiatives, we need new inspectors to go in and make sure [employers] are abiding by the existing law."

Sources: The Hill; The Ergonomics Report™ 

Note: Following the initial publication of this article, Sen. Biden’s office provided the following clarification of his views: “We need to guarantee American workers the safety they deserve.  I believe that all employees should be covered by regulations that ensure a safe working environment and their personal safety on the job.  I have been a supporter of OSHA regulations since my early days in the Senate and time and time again I have voted to extend OSHA regulations and have vigorously opposed efforts to restrict the application of OSHA coverage.  I oppose President Bush’s repeal of the OSHA Ergonomics mandate and would reinstate ergonomics protections. In addition, I am a proud cosponsor of the Protecting America’s Workers Act which expands OSHA protection and penalties for OSHA violators, as well as increases protections for OSHA whistleblowers.”