On Thursday, April 26, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao testified before the
Senate’s Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and
Education of the Senate Appropriations Committee. In her testimony,
Chao outlined principles for an approach to the complicated issue of
ergonomics that emphasize prevention, and clarity in any new rules.
“It is vitally important that we avoid a repeat of the last ergonomics
standard,” commented Chao. “It would be wise to consider the factors
that preceded last month’s vote by Congress before charting a new course.”
Just prior to that testimony, the American Public Health Association (APHA) joined the
AFL-CIO, members of Congress and representatives from other national organizations to call on Secretary Chao to issue a new ergonomics standard to protect America’s workers. In a press release the APHA stated, “It is abundantly obvious that we need an ergonomics standard, that there is scientific data supporting a
standard and that Secretary Chao should waste no time in developing one that will protect America’s work
force. We were dismayed at the repeal of OSHA’s standard earlier this year and remain committed to the development and implementation of a national ergonomics standard.”
In addition to Secretary Chao’s testimony, the Senate heard from The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), the nation’s largest meatpacking workers’ union, who demanded immediate action for a new ergonomics standard.
UCFW’s testimony claims that U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Elaine Chao distorted the
experience of the meatpacking industry by claiming voluntary
programs reduced musculoskeletal injuries in the industry. So
called voluntary programs in meatpacking came only after OSHA
“Workers are demanding a new ergonomics standard and a solid
timeline to develop one. Secretary Chao met with UFCW members
from across the country and heard their personal stories of
workplace safety problems just a month ago, and she promised
them she would work toward a resolution,” said Doug Dority,
UFCW International President. “The Bush Administration has
turned its back on working America-denying years of ergonomic
science and policy making that could prevent hundreds of
thousands of needless workplace injuries a year.”
Gloria Boyd, UFCW Local 431 Member and injured meatpacking
worker spoke out this week at a press conference announcing that
a formal petition signed by leaders of unions, occupational safety
and public health groups, as well as civil rights, religious, and
women’s organizations requesting the Department of Labor to issue
a new ergonomics standard to protect the America’s workers. “Lots
of my co-workers are getting carpal tunnel and sore backs because
of the jobs they do. When the lines are running short-handed, they
don’t slow down the line. And they don’t train workers enough. They
move them around onto jobs they don’t know or haven’t done for a
while, because they are short handed. This is really hurting
people,” said Boyd, who is from Waterloo, Iowa.
“We need a standard,” Boyd said, “so that everyone will be
protected. People are working hard and they shouldn’t have to go
home injured or lose pay because the company doesn’t fix the
Just after the senate hearings, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) released a statement supporting the development of an ergonomics standard.
“ASSE and its members are committed to protecting people, property, and the environment. We continue to work with employers, employees, clients, associates, and other safety professionals to prevent workplace muscular skeletal disorders (WMSDs) in the workplace,” ASSE President Samuel Gualardo stated. “Effective ergonomic programs are a significant economic plus to any company or organization and positively impacts an organization’s bottom-line.”
In the letters, Gualardo noted that ASSE is committed to working with Congress and U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao to craft a new regulation that will protect workers without adding unnecessary regulatory requirements.
“We believe good public policy, science, and sound technology will drive the process,” Gualardo continued. “As far as the ergonomic standard, we believe it should be a stand-alone standard, be performance oriented and applicable to all employers and employees. It should outline the basic tenets and acceptable practices necessary for successfully developing and managing an effective ergonomic program.
“In order for any standard to work it needs to be supported by cohesive outreach efforts, melding the resources of OSHA, business associations, professional societies, and academia,” Gualardo said. “Such a program can be supported by other positive reinforcement actions such as penalty reductions for good faith efforts by employers or, because of anticipated significant costs to employers, granting tax credits for the creation and maintenance of an acceptable program.”
Gualardo also stated that the science to justify the need for an ergonomic standard exists. ASSE accepts the recent National Academy of Science (NAS) study indicating a scientific basis for an ergonomic standard. However, ASSE supports enhancing the knowledge base on this issue through continued research into the causation, identification, and prevention of ergonomic injuries.