Two Bills Introduced to Address Ergonomics

S. 598 introduced on March 22, 2001 by Louisiana Sens. Breaux and Mary Landrieu , Sens. Max Cleland (D-Ga.), Tim Johnson (D- S.D.), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Zell Miller (D-Ga.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), and H.R. 1241 introduced on March 27, 2001 by Sens. John, Houghton, Tanner, Cramer, and Dooley of California, and also Sens. Spratt and Carson of Oklahoma seeks "To provide for the reissuance of a rule relating to ergonomics."

Both bills outlined the following:

  • The National Academy of Sciences issued a report entitled `Musculoskeletal Disorders and the Workplace--Low Back and Upper Extremities' on January 18, 2001. The report was issued after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration promulgated a final rule relating to ergonomics (published at 65 Fed. Reg. 68261 (2000)).
  • According to the National Academy of Sciences, musculoskeletal disorders of the low back and upper extremities are an important and costly national health problem. An estimated 1,000,000 workers each year lose time from work as a result of work-related musculoskeletal disorders.
  • Conservative estimates of the economic burden imposed by work-related musculoskeletal disorders, as measured by compensation costs, lost wages, and lost productivity, are between $45,000,000,000 and $54,000,000,000 annually.
  • Congress enacted the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (29 U.S.C. 651 et seq.) to `assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the Nation safe and healthful working conditions' and charged the Secretary of Labor with implementing the Act to accomplish this purpose.
  • Promulgation of a standard on workplace ergonomics is needed to address a serious workplace safety and health problem and to protect working men and women from work-related musculoskeletal disorders. Any workplace ergonomics standard should take into account the cost and feasibility of compliance with such requirements and the sound science of the National Academy of Sciences report.

The Senators have slated to have the rules released within 2 years and apply the following:

  • address work-related musculoskeletal disorders and workplace ergonomics hazards;
  • not apply to nonwork-related musculoskeletal disorders that occur outside the workplace or nonwork-related musculoskeletal disorders that are aggravated by work; and
  • set forth in clear terms--
    - the circumstances under which an employer is required to take action to address ergonomics hazards;
    -the measures required of an employer under the standard; and
    -the compliance obligations of an employer under the standard.

In his press statement, Sen. Breaux said "A safe, working environment is very important to Louisiana workers. We must protect the health and safety of the millions of American workers who often make a living doing strenuous physical labor."

In addition to the bills, Senator Christopher Bond (R-MO), has urged Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao to convene a "blue ribbon commission" to explore the best ways for the Department of Labor and OSHA can protect employees from ergonomic hazards in the workplace.

In a letter, Bond said convening such a panel "would allow the various sides to participate in a dialog about what OSHA should do to address work- related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)." He also suggested that the best approach will rely on a solution more substantive than simply drafting another regulation to reduce work-related MSDs.

"Work-related injuries are serious matters that take a toll on both workers and their employers," Stated Bond after the letters release. "The business community has already demonstrated that there are responsible and voluntary ways for employers to help safeguard employees without opening a Pandora's box of OSHA citations and fines."