In August the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) of the United States Department of Labor began canceling ergonomics agreements made with several major United States companies. They were old agreements that may have expired unnoticed, so the cancellations are likely to be viewed as an effort by the Republican White House to underline its antipathy to ergonomics regulations.
Commenting on the cancellations, Peter Budnick, Ph.D., CPE, an ergonomics lecturer and principal of Ergoweb Inc., said the move shouldn’t be a surprise due to the age of the agreements. “On the other hand,” he said, “they could have simply let them quietly die, rather than actively seeking to close them out, which seems telling.”
President George W. Bush took aim at the long-awaited OSHA ergonomics standard of 2000 soon after taking office. OSHA had announced the standard as a means of addressing “the significant risk of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) confronting employees in various jobs in general industry workplaces.” The business community lobbied against it, saying it would cost them anywhere from $20 billion to more than $100 billion a year. They also argued that it federalized the workplace and was based on “junk science.”
Unions welcomed it. “The new standard will prevent hundreds of thousands of crippling repetitive strain injuries each year,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. “Workers in poultry plants, meat packing, auto assembly, computer operation, health care, service industries and others in high-risk jobs will finally have much-needed protection.”
The new Republican-dominated Congress overturned the standard in 2001, with President George W. Bush signing the repeal. Its replacement arrived on April 5, 2002. OSHA announced a “comprehensive approach to ergonomics designed to reduce ergonomic injuries through a combination of guidelines, enforcement, outreach and assistance, and research.” Many industries signed up to the voluntary agreement, but the agency is reported to have little political support