In an October opinion, the Supreme Court in the state of Washington said a 2003 voter initiative that repealed a statewide workplace ergonomics standard does not remove the power of the state’s Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) to cite employers for ergonomic-related hazards.
Reporting on the opinion, the Associated Press said that in an 8-1 ruling on October 19, the court stressed Initiative 841 (I-841) repealed only specific ergonomics rules promulgated by L&I in 2000. Prior to those rules, the state addressed ergonomics-related hazards under the general-duty clause of Washington’s Industrial Safety and Health Act.
“Nothing in I-841 suggests that L&I is stripped of its general regulatory authority to address serious or deadly ergonomics-related workplace hazards” under state law, Justice Tom Chambers wrote for the majority.
Reporting on the opinion, Occupationalhazards.com said I-841 repealed what was described in the ballot language as “an expensive, unproven rule,” and forbade L&I from adopting any new or amended ergonomics rules unless ordered by federal OSHA or Congress.
An ergonomics-related injury complaint to L&I from an employee at Tacoma’s SuperValu grocery store triggered the Supreme Court review. The employee wrote that “tripping and ergonomic hazards” existed at the facility. The letter alleged that workers “must access products and carry heavy items over pallets” and alleged that there had been an increasing number of back injuries and other injuries.
L&I inspected the site and requested additional material. SuperValu objected, arguing that the voters’ intent in I-841 was to bar L&I from performing inspections and issuing citations with regard to any musculoskeletal injury related to an ergonomics hazard.
The Supreme Court then stepped in to decide whether voters intended to repeal only the ergonomics standard promulgated in 2000 or both the ergonomics standard and L&I’s authority to enforce workplace ergonomics through the general-duty clause.
Sources: Associated Press; Occupationalhazards.com