ERGONOMICS: House Vote Would Bar OSHA from Issuing Rules
In the latest action in a debate that has pitted unions against businesses for a decade, the House voted 220-203 yesterday to block federal er gonomics rules that would require 1.6 million employers to implement repetitive-stress injury prevention and response programs for their workers. The vote prevents the Occupational Safety and Health Administration from issuing final rules before the end of the year, a move that President Clinton supported (Reuters/Washington Post, 6/9). The vote pushes off a decision on the rules' implementation until at least October 2001 (Rogers, Wall Street Journal, 6/9). The proposed rules would be the "first attempt to establish broad federal standards incorporating the principle of ergonomics: adjusting the workplace to the physical needs of workers." According to Labor Department estimates, 1.8 million workers suffer each year from work-related injuries because of overexertion and repetitive motion; one-third of those cases force workers to take time off. Officials have said that a projected reduction of 300,000 potentially disabling injuries each year would save employers $9 billion in annual workers' compensation costs. But businesses have opposed such regulations, saying that they could "cost ... uncounted billions while giving government too much power to meddle in the process of manufacturing or other key business decisions."
Toeing the Party Line
The vote was split mainly along partisan lines, as Democrats favored regulation while Republicans opposed it, supporting their business allies. Republicans have thwarted implementation of ergonomics rules since taking control of Congress five years ago. Rep. Anne Northup (R-Ky.) said that the proposed regulations were a "bang-you-over-your-head" approach that ignores "good-faith efforts by employers to help workers." But Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) said that the vote shows Republicans' ignorance of the reality of conditions for the working class, who are vulnerable to disabling injuries associated with repetitive, awkward or stressful tasks. He added, "Maybe the Republicans would recognize ergonomics injuries if we applied them to tennis and golf." Even if the ban passes the Senate, it will likely face a Clinton veto (Anderson, Los Angeles Times, 6/9).