Repetitive-Stress Injuries Down in 1999
A week after President Bush signed a repeal of a Clinton administration ergonomics rule designed to reduce work-related repetitive-stress injuries, the Labor Department reports that 1.7 million employees suffering injuries at private businesses required leave in 1999, down from 1.73 million in 1998. Still, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports that more than a third -- 582,300 -- of all workplace injuries resulted from repetitive stress, sprains or strains, prompting Labor Secretary Elaine Chao to call for a "solid, comprehensive approach to ergonomics." She said, "It also points to a need to address injuries before they occur, through prevention and compliance assistance, rather than just rely on reactionary methods." Truck drivers reported the most injuries, with 131,800 cases, followed by laborers, with 97,200 injuries, and nursing aides and orderlies, with 84,100 cases. According to the Labor Department, men accounted for two out of three injuries, and employees ages 25 to 44 reported 55% of the injuries. In addition, the department found that employees suffering carpal tunnel syndrome required an average of 27 days of leave, while overall those with repetitive-stress injuries required about 17 days. Employees suffering fractures required an average of 20 days of leave, and those undergoing amputations required 18 days.
Although labor unions favored the ergonomics rule issued by the Clinton administration, business groups criticized the regulation as "overreaching and too costly." Republicans led the effort to "kill" the rule, using the Congressional Review Act to "limit debate and move quickly to votes." The CRA prohibits the Labor Department from issuing any rules "substantially similar" to the one that was struck down, but Chao said, "I am committed to joining with unions, employers, safety professionals and Congress to develop an effective strategy to further reduce these injuries," adding, "This is a serious problem." She has asked department lawyers to interpret the "substantially similar" language of the Congressional Review Act to determine "boundaries for creating new rules," Chao spokeperson Stuart Roy said (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 3/28). Meanwhile, Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), who voted with Republicans against the Clinton administration ergonomics regulation, has proposed a "bipartisan bill" that would require the Labor Department to study and "address" workplace ergonomics hazards within two years. Under the bill, new regulations could not "expand state worker's compensation laws, would not cover disorders that arose outside the workplace and simply were aggravated by work and would define when an employer must address an ergonomics hazard" (McKinney, Baton Rouge Advocate, 3/26). However, organized labor "isn't sure" that the Bush administration will reconsider ergonomics regulations. Andrew Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, said that the Bush administration's "track record on reaching out to the other side to find common ground is not good," adding, "The White House has clearly been extending a fist and not an open hand" (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 3/28).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.