GOP Attempts to Overturn Clinton Ergonomics Rules
Republicans in the Senate are preparing to vote this week to overturn "highly controversial" ergonomics regulations issued in "the last months" of the Clinton administration, the Washington Post reports (Skrzycki, Washington Post, 3/2). The regulations require employers to "design and implement comprehensive ergonomics programs," educate workers about the symptoms and risks of cumulative trauma disorders, and reassign employees who cannot perform certain physical tasks. Employers must also compensate employees with work-related musculoskeletal repetitive stress injuries with up to 90% of their normal wages for the first three months they are out of work recuperating. With Republicans arguing that the regulations are an "unwarranted governmental intrusion" into the workplace, GOP Senators plan to use the Congressional Review Act of 1996, which allows Congress to undo regulations that have been recently published by any federal agency, to overturn the rule. Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) said, "Congress has no choice but to head off the devastating side effects of the Clinton ergonomics rule by dismantling it. This menacing regulation's days are numbered" (Dine, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 3/4).
Arguing that the rules will not improve workplace safety, Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) said, "Something needs to be done on ergonomics -- not this. (Companies) are going to be too busy with paperwork and expense to make jobs safer" (Batt, Las Vegas Review Journal, 3/2). He added, "[The Occupational Safety and Health Administration] will have the opportunity to learn more about ergonomics injuries and build on what businesses are already doing in the area of ergonomic injury prevention and protection" if the rule is overturned. (CongressDaily/AM, 3/5). The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said in a statement, "OSHA's rush to issue an ill-conceived, expensive and unscientific ergonomics standard is irresponsible government at its worst. The rule will cost businesses billions of dollars, yet benefits to workers -- if any -- are uncertain" (Strope, AP/Nando Times, 3/3).
Acknowledging that Republicans likely have the votes to overturn the ergonomics rules, the AFL-CIO has launched a campaign to keep the rules intact. Lynn Rhinehart, the union's associate general counsel, called ergonomics "the number one job safety issue in America," adding that a vote against the standards "would make it extremely difficult for [OSHA] to adopt an ergonomics rule in the future" (Washington Post, 3/2). Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) said that GOP efforts to repeal the rules show a "callous disregard for the well-being and health of workers in this country" (CongressDaily/AM, 3/5). AFL-CIO chair John Sweeney said, "Ergonomic protections are now the law of the land and no one is going to take them away. We will let our voices be heard loud and clear to let the Bush administration, the Congress and big business know that working families will not be outmaneuvered by this political power play." White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer said the Bush administration "has not taken any formal position [on the standards,] but will do so shortly" (Epso, AP/Tacoma News Tribune, 3/2). If the rule is overturned, the administration may consider a new rule, or issue "guidelines" to prevent ergonomics injuries (Washington Post, 3/2).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.