Wellstone Holds Ergonomics Hearing
Just days after the Bush administration held the first of three scheduled forums on ergonomics, Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee on Employment, Safety and Training, held a separate hearing yesterday, calling repetitive-stress injuries "the most critical workplace safety issue of our time," the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 7/19) reports. During the hearing, Wellstone "accused" the Bush administration of "ignoring" the issue and "criticized" Labor Secretary Elaine Chao for declining an invitation to testify before the panel. Wellstone said, "[Chao] has said she is committed to developing a comprehensive approach to dealing with repetitive-stress injuries, but nothing this administration has done so far is consistent with such sympathetic sounding language." He added that 600,000 employees miss "at least" one day of work each year for "ergonomics-related injuries," with 1.8 million employees reporting injuries to employers annually. Democrats "accused" the Bush administration of "bowing to pressure" from industry to "junk" federal ergonomics standards that would require employers to modify workstations to prevent injuries and to "inform workers how to report" injuries (Hotakainen, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 7/19). While President Clinton issued an ergonomics rule in January, Congress repealed the regulation in March.
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On Monday, the Bush administration held the first of three hearings on ergonomics to help determine "what steps to take" on the issue. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), however, called the forum "a thinly veiled attempt ... to delay and turn back the clock" on the rules. He and Wellstone added that policy makers have "thoroughly studied" the issue, pointing out that federal officials have compiled more than 50,000 pages of evidence from about 6,000 sources. According to Chris Spear, an assistant secretary of labor for policy, the Labor Department recognizes the "serious problem" of ergonomics related injuries and will announce a "plan to address them" in September. "The commitment is there ... The question is how to regulate it," Spear said (Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 7/19).