March 5, 2002
Contact: Governor’s Communications Office
OLYMPIA – Gov. Gary Locke today directed the state Department of Labor and Industries to implement the state’s ergonomics rule but asked that enforcement actions be delayed until July 2004.
The governor announced his directive at a morning press conference in Olympia.
L&I adopted an ergonomics rule in May 2000 to reduce pain, disability and cost of 50,000 preventable work-related musculoskeletal injuries every year. In order to make sure the state’s pioneering rule was ready to be implemented, Locke requested that L&I establish a Blue Ribbon Panel on Ergonomics to assess whether the following criteria have been met prior to the rule’s first effective date of July 1, 2002:
- Demonstration projects have been successful
- Effective educational materials are widely available
- The requirements are understandable
- The enforcement policies and procedures are fair and consistent.
After a comprehensive review, the panel determined that all four criteria have been met. However, the panel also made five recommendations to improve the effective and fair implementation of the rule.
In a letter to state legislative leaders, Locke noted that he is “pleased that the panel has found that the efforts taken so far have been successful. This is a testament to the Department’s exhaustive efforts and diligence in crafting the rule. We must pursue all feasible solutions to prevent workplace injuries that can be economically avoided. Accordingly, the ergonomics rule will go into effect as written.”
“I can assure you that the Department will promptly implement each of the Panel’s recommendations,” Locke wrote.
The governor ordered a two-year delay in the enforcement of the ergonomics rules, however, directing L&I to impose no penalties under the rule for two years after each effective date on the timeline.
“There is fear in some industries that these new rules might require costly investments in new equipment, ergonomic consultants, and detailed studies,” Locke wrote. “I believe these fears are unfounded. However, as the national leader it is incumbent upon us to proceed carefully.”
The governor directed the Department to work diligently to continue development of model educational materials and best practices, to conduct large demonstration projects with multi-site employers and to help businesses understand the requirements of the rule.
“We must be certain that the Department has had ample opportunity to provide more consultation services to employers,” Locke wrote.
Locke also expressed his concern over pending legislation to repeal the state’s ergonomics rule.
“I understand that one or more bills are under consideration in the Legislature that would repeal the Department’s new ergonomics rule,”
Locke wrote. “I oppose such bills, and will veto any that reaches my desk.”
“Our Department of Labor & Industries has spent years studying the best science in the world on work-related musculoskeletal disorders,” the governor concluded. “Employees and employers will benefit from the ergonomics rule because injuries and the costs of treating them will be reduced. People will be able to work longer, be healthier, and lead more productive lives, both at work and at home.”