Labor Leaders Welcome Ergonomics Initiative

The labor community is calling OSHA's proposed ergonomics rule a victory for workers.

The labor community is calling OSHA's proposed ergonomics rule, which requires employers to implement ergonomics programs for hazardous jobs, a victory for workers. Labor officials believe the new standard is long overdue and greatly needed.

Peg Seminario, director of the Department of Occupational Safety and Health for the AFL-CIO said that once the ergonomics standard is finalized, it will be the most important worker safety and health protection of this decade but it is not as strong as the AFL-CIO would like. "The proposed standard is a major step forward in the effort to protect workers from crippling workplace injuries but it excludes workers in construction, maritime and agriculture," said Seminario.

Seminario said the AFL-CIO will have to redouble its efforts both in the rulemaking and in the Congress because the industry opposition to this rule will be fierce. The group plans on doing everything it can to help OSHA complete the rule making and to issue a strong final standard.

OSHA will be taking written comments on the rule until Feb. 1, 2000. Public hearings on the proposal will be held in Washington D.C., Portland, Oregon and Chicago during February, March and April.

The AFL-CIO is encouraging supporters of OSHA's ergonomics rule to submit comments and participate in the hearings.

"We need to build a strong record of support for this standard and the expansion of the rule to cover all workers. We also need to let members of Congress know that workers need these protections and they should oppose any efforts to block this standard," said Seminario.

Labor support is being found at the state level as well. "The rule affirms what workers have known for years: some jobs cause unnecessary pain and injury. These jobs can be fixed and these injuries can be prevented," said Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation.

California and Washington are two states that have led the way in proposing ergonomic standards. "Leadership by California workers and activists led to our state standard and now this stronger national standard," said Pulaski.

The Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE) Monday called upon the federal government to move quickly to adopt an ergonomics regulation. "Every year, more than 600,000 workers nationally are disabled by back pain and hand/arm injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome," said UNITE Southern Regional Co-Manager Harris Raynor. "Workers desperately need strong OSHA standards on extreme workloads and heavy packages."

Raynor also pointed out that many companies have already worked with UNITE locally to establish ergonomics programs, "because it saves them money, too." When leading apparel, textile and auto parts companies like Levi Strauss, Xerox, Fieldcrest-Cannon and Lear Corp., move ahead on ergonomics it can help keep manufacturing jobs in America," said Raynor.

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