From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Washington State Sued Over Ergonomics Regulations

A lawsuit filed Wednesday, October 17, by business groups and employers contends that ergonomics rules written by the Department of Labor and Industries place a staggering burden on employers for dubious benefits to workers.

The Associated Press reported Tom McCabe, president of the Building Industry Association of Washington, as saying. “This is clearly a case of a state agency abusing its power and pushing through a rule based on political agendas.”

According to the Washington State Standard, Work Related Musculoskeletal Disorders (WMSDs) are the largest category of injuries and illnesses affecting Washington workers. There are at least 52,000 WMSD workers’ compensation claims for the neck, back and upper extremity accepted yearly in the State of Washington. The total annual direct cost of all WMSDs is more than $410 million. Additional indirect costs such as lost productivity, absenteeism, and long term
lost earning potential bring the total annual cost above $1 billion.

Major employer groups say the rules will cost them $725 million a year. The lawsuit also challenges the effectiveness of the ergonomic techniques spelled out in the rules.

In contrast, Washington’s department of Labor and Industry’s(L&I) Cost-Benefit Analysis states the estimated annual cost for compliance is $80.4 million. The estimated annual benefit from the rule is $340.7 million. The benefit-cost ratio is 4.24, indicating that the estimated social benefits substantially outweigh the costs. Interpreted another way by L&I, this means that there is a 424 percent return on the investment toward reducing WMSDs. The benefit-cost ratios range from 1.55 for agriculture and forestry to 7.03 for non-durable manufacturing.

These rules go into effect July 1, 2002. Timelines are established through 2006. Certain industries have been identified as ‘high-risk employers’ in the regulation. Those industries, identified by their SIC codes, include Landscape and Horticultural Services, Masonry, Stonework, Tile, Setting & Plastering, Carpentry and Floor Work, Roofing, Sawmills, and Nursing or Personal Care.

L&I began the rule development process in October 1998. Before drafting the proposed rule, L&I actively engaged the business, labor and health professional communities in detailed discussions. These discussions included nine public rule development conferences in late 1998, followed by the work of two advisory committees in the first half of 1999. The proposed rule was issued in November, 1999, followed by fourteen formal public hearings in seven cities around the state. Two hundred forty nine witnesses testified. L&I received more than 850 post-hearing comments.

Proposals to delay implementation of the rules died in the closely divided Legislature this year.

For more information about the Washington State Ergonomic Rules, see the Department of Labor and Industries