New OSHA Rules Spur Debate Over Ergonomics
With new rules slated to take effect this week, several newspapers are reporting on the debate surrounding the new ergonomic standards. The Washington Times profiled businesses' uncertainty of the actual cost of implementing new ergonomics standards. Although OSHA said the expenses associated with adjusting work stations and duties will be "recovered through lower medical expenses," many employers fear that the new rules could put them out of business (Ramstack, Washington Times, 1/15). New standards require workplaces nationwide to "design and implement comprehensive ergonomics programs," educate their workers about the symptoms and risks of cumulative trauma disorders, and relocate employees who can't perform certain physical tasks (Losciale, Chicago Tribune, 1/14). In addition, employers must compensate employees with musculoskeletal injuries from repetitive stress with up to 90% of their normal wages for the first three months they are "out of work recuperating." OSHA estimates the cost to employers nationwide at $9 billion a year, but the Washington Times reports that "most industry organizations place the cost somewhere between $20 billion and $120 billion," adding, "No one knows the exact figure or even how OSHA will enforce the ergonomics rules."
Republican congressional leaders and representatives of the new Bush administration have indicated in "recent days" that they might change what House Majority Leader Dick Armey has dubbed President Clinton's "midnight regulations." The Washington Times reports that even if Congress does not agree to change the new ergonomics regulations, President-elect Bush could "delay enforcement of them almost indefinitely" by classifying them as a "low priority for enforcement," turning enforcement to the states without providing the funding needed to pay for enforcement, or postponing the effective date of the rules until all legal challenges are resolved. These legal challenges could take "years" to resolve (Washington Times, 1/15). The Chicago Tribune also takes a look at both sides of the debate as business groups and insurance companies take the new regulations to court. Pat Cleary, vice president of human resources policy at the National Association of Manufacturers, one of the groups challenging the rules, said, "The cornerstone of the lawsuit is that there's no consensus in the scientific and medical communities over the causes of ergonomic injuries. [The regulations will] cost money with no impact on safety." But OSHA Assistant Secretary Charles Jeffress said, "The ergonomics programs improve productivity and result in less worker's compensation, less employee turnover, and less time loss." Meanwhile, small business owners argue that they will be "the greatest losers" (Chicago Tribune, 1/15).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.