Ergonomics Rules Being Revamped

Washington

Any new regulation on ergonomic injuries will have to address the concerns expressed by Congress, and avoid repeating the mistakes that led to the nullification of the Clinton Administration’s approach, U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao says.

Speaking last week at the first of three public forums on ergonomics, Ms. Chao said the issue is not whether the Labor Department should deal with ergonomic injuries, but how it should be done.

Referring to the first-attempted ergonomics rule promulgated in the last days of the Clinton Administration, Ms. Chao said a bipartisan coalition in both the House and Senate–including members allied with organized labor–found the Clinton rule too far-reaching and unworkable. As a result, she said, Congress nullified the rule.

“As they say in my home state of Kentucky, there is no education in the second kick of a mule,” said Ms. Chao.

She added that during the forums, she hopes to find a way to protect workers that will not lead to extensive litigation or Congressional reaction. However, she said she understands that whatever approach the Labor Department takes, somebody will be unhappy.

The Labor Department forums focus on three issues.

The first is what defines an ergonomic injury.

The second is how to determine whether an ergonomic injury is caused by work-related activities, non-work-related activities or a combination of the two.

(As a corollary to the second issue, the forums will explore what is the appropriate response when an injury is caused by both work and non-work activities.)

The third issue is what are the most useful and cost-effective types of government involvement.

Insurance industry and business community representatives said OSHA should begin by supporting voluntary programs that encourage employers to make appropriate ergonomic decisions. Labor groups say a government standard is long overdue. (For more reaction, see the NU Online News Service at NationalUnderwriter.com.)


Reproduced from National Underwriter Property & Casualty/Risk & Benefits Management Edition, July 30, 2001. Copyright 2001 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.


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