New Ergonomics Regulations Being Discussed

OHSA's latest attempt at a workplace ergonomics standard was dealt a final blow yesterday when Bush signed its repeal into law, but a bipartisan movement to draft a new set of rules is already underway.

The main objections to the now defunct rules were:

  1. Federal law conflicting with State Workers' Compensation laws by specifically requiring predefined compensation levels for injured workers;
  2. Coverage of injuries that may have occurred outside of the workplace;
  3. Too burdensome on small business;
  4. Lack of scientific support relating musculoskeletal injuries to work activities.
Opponents used the argument that ergonomics lacked scientific support early in their battle against the rules. With two congressionally funded National Academy of Science reports supporting the links between certain workplace risk factors and recognized injuries, their arguments soon fell on deaf ears.

The provisions requiring an employer to compensate injured workers at predefined levels, in a way that many believed was in direct conflict with established State Workers' Compensation laws did, however, create a substantial roar. When combined with the rule's inclusion of potentially non-work related injuries, key members of Congress were all ears.

Just like the Clinton administration managed to slide the rule into law in the final days of his term, the Bush administration was able to christen the new Congressional Review Act by overturning the OSHA rule in just two days, catching most observers by surprise.

Talk of a new set of rules, friendlier to business, immediately emerged. Elaine Choa, the new Secretary of Labor stated that she would consider drafting a new set of ergonomics rules. Democratic Senator John Breaux of Louisiana has since offered a proposal to OSHA to issue revised rules to protect workers from MSDs within two years. Many political observers believe that Bush must address this issue before the mid-term election cycle two years from now if he is going to gain the support of organized labor, a strong supporter of ergonomic workplace protections. Breaux's proposal says a new ergonomics rule shouldn't expand existing state workmans' compensation laws, nor should it apply to injuries that occurred outside the workplace.

Bloomberg.com quoted Republican Senator Mike Enzi from Wyoming, a staunch opponent of the previous rules as saying, ``We do need a mechanism that will actually prevent injuries. We may be able to come up with some agreement in a short while so that this could be accepted.'

While Labor Unions were supporters of the original draft, they consider Breaux's move as a positive step. Peg Seminario, director of safety and health for the AFL-CIO said,``Passage of the amendment would be a step forward,' according to Bloomberg.com.

What can you do? Whether you're for or against, continue to tell your congressional representatives how you feel about a new set of workplace ergonomics rules.