Bush Expected to Outline New Ergonomic Policy Today
The Bush administration today is expected to announce its "approach to protecting workers against on-the-job repetitive- stress injuries," the Wall Street Journal reports. While it "remain[s] unclear what form" the policy will take, it is "widely expected" that the policy will contain voluntary compliance rules for employers instead of mandatory regulations. Senate Labor and Education Committee Chair Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) said that voluntary rules would be "a win for industry and a loss for millions of American workers who face the threat of workplace injury every day." According to the Journal, debate exists over the legitimacy of repetitive stress injuries. Randy Johnson, a lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said, "Contrary to popular opinion, the science surrounding the ergonomics issue is still unsettled, and it would be inappropriate to go forward with regulations at this time." However, a congressionally commissioned study by the National Academy of Sciences found a "clear relationship" between such activities as heavy lifting or repetitive movement and the occurrence of several types of injuries. The study said that such injuries cost an estimated $50 billion per year in compensation costs, lost wages and lost productivity. In March of last year, Congress passed legislation repealing a set of ergonomics regulations promulgated at the end of the Clinton administration. The Clinton regulations would have required job conditions and work areas to be "tailored" to assist workers in preventing repetitive strain and other injuries. However, business groups complained that the regulations "weren't based on science" and that implementing the regulations would be "prohibitively expensive." The Clinton administration estimated the cost of the rules, which would have covered 102 million workers, at $4.5 billion annually, but businesses said that the number was closer to $100 billion. After the repeal of the Clinton regulations, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao "promise[d]" to introduce a "comprehensive plan" to reduce ergonomic-related injuries by last September, and has "come under fire" for failing to meet that deadline (Chen, Wall Street Journal, 4/5).