From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Judge Upholds Washington State Ergonomics Rules

A judge upheld the Washington State’s workplace ergonomics rules July 12. The ruling rejected a business coalition’s challenge to the plan for reducing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

“We are pleased with the judge’s decision,” said Department of Labor and Industries Director Gary Moore. “This is good news for the workers of the state of Washington who suffer more than 50,000 ergonomic-related injuries every year. These are costly injuries and this ruling will save employers money on the bottom-line. This decision takes us a step closer to preventing these painful, debilitating injuries.”

The ruling rejected a business coalition’s contention that the department exceeded its authority under state law, acted arbitrarily and capriciously, and did not properly follow rule-making requirements.

Moore said that today’s court ruling affirms that the state acted properly when it adopted these regulations. “We will continue our efforts to work with employers and employees as the regulation is phased in over the next seven years,” he said.

The Building Industry Association of Washington, the state chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business and others contested the rules saying that they would cost employers $725 million to implement, or about nine times what the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) Estimated. L&I anticipates the rules would cost $80 million to implement and produce $300 million in savings from smaller workers-compensation costs, increased productivity and other benefits.

The collective groups have said they will appeal the ruling. Carolyn Logue, director of the 17,000-member Washington Chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business was quoted as saying, “Judge Casey’s decision grants carte blanche to other state agencies to go ahead with their wild schemes without any regard for sensible standards”.

Labor authorities have praised the ruling. Rick Bender, president of the Washington State Labor Council said, “The state has an interest – and in fact a constitutional obligation – to ensure its workplaces are safe and healthy, and the ergonomics rule is a critically important step toward addressing the No. 1 cause of work injury in this state”.

The ergonomics rule was adopted in May of 2000. Each year, 50,000 Washington workers suffer work-related musculoskeletal injuries. The injuries cost the state’s workers’ compensation system more than $411 million a year in medical treatment and partial wage replacement payments.

The rule requires employers to protect their employees from work-related injuries such as back strain, tendinitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. The rule took effect July 1. Enforcement will be phased in, beginning July 1, 2004. L&I is working with businesses and employee groups to conduct comprehensive education and outreach efforts.

Sources: Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, The Seattle Times