Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., released a statement this week saying he plans on working closely with a group of his colleagues in the coming weeks to strike down OSHA''s ergonomics standard.
Enzi said the rule could hurt workers and consumers alike by paralyzing businesses across the country and causing dramatic price hikes for goods and services.
Enzi, who chairs the Senate subcommittee with oversight authority over OSHA, believes OSHA'' ergonomics rule, designed to prevent repetitive motions injuries, will do little to help workers while at the same time increasing the regulatory burden on small businesses to an "unbearable level."
"If ever there was an instance that called for Congress to step in and send an administrative agency rule back to the drawing board, this is it," said Enzi. "Procedurally, the Clinton OSHA paid its own witnesses to advocate the political position of the administration and the agency forced the rule through without properly considering public comments so a new administration wouldn''t have time to review its action. Substantively, OSHA did its best to ignore the negative consequences this onerous rule would have on workers, states, businesses and entire industries."
According to Enzi, OSHA published its rule before it considered the complexities of what causes repetitive motion injuries and how they relate to the workplace as conveyed in a recent National Academy of Sciences study.
He said if OSHA had waited for this study to come out before forcing the rule through, the agency might have been able to craft a rule that would better solve the problem.
Enzi said he was particularly concerned about the healthcare industry. He compared the situation to the California power crisis where government forced businesses to sell their products below actual cost and now the businesses are going bankrupt.
"I don''t want this ergo rule to cost people their jobs, to force small businesses, especially healthcare providers, out of business. This rule would do that without safety results," said Enzi.
Enzi said he was also concerned about the many businesses covered by the rule.
The ergonomics regulation is purported to cover more than 100 million workers across the country, including businesses with only a single worker who experiences an ergonomics injury.
Hearings on a rule that covered a limited group of businesses were held, but after the hearings, a greatly expanded and changed rule that covered a larger group of businesses was put through, said Enzi.
"This rule would force convenience stores to implement the same standards as meat packing plants. Ergonomic problems in the workplace must be solved, but as written, this rule doesn''t solve the problem," said Enzi. "The standards set forth in this one-size-fits-all rule do not make sense. The rule piles on paperwork rather than encouraging simple safety measures that both large and small businesses can understand and comply with."
The Employment Policy Foundation estimated the cost of compliance with the rule for businesses across the nation to be about $125 billion each year.
Overturning a Rule
The ergonomics rule is set to go into effect in October, but Enzi hopes Congress will use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) by that time.
The CRA is a rarely-used law which allows Congress to overturn an agency rule.
Under the special procedures applied to use the CRA, Congress must act to overturn a rule within a certain time frame depending on when the rule is published.
The ergonomics rule was published Nov. 14, 2000. Enzi said the deadline for Congressional action could fall in mid-March.
Important to note is the fact that the CRA is insulated in the Senate from a filibuster and debate is limited to a total of 10 hours, thus a majority of the Senate vote, rather than a filibuster proof 60 votes is all that is needed to pass a CRA resolution.
There are no special procedures in the House for considering a CRA resolution.
To date, no rule has ever been successfully overturned through use of the CRA, but Enzi said this is a time in history when many things are being done that have never been done before.
"There are a number of reasons this procedure is rarely tried and never successfully, the predominant reason being that Congress is usually in a position of overturning a rule that was put in place by a president who wanted the rule there in the first place," said Enzi. "It requires 67 votes in the Senate to overturn a Presidential veto. In this case though, I believe President Bush would gladly let Congress rid the country of the current rule and he would welcome time to work on an ergonomics rule that is well thought out."
Enzi said passing a resolution to overturn the ergonomics rule will not be easy, but he hopes his colleagues will see the flaws in the current rule.
"Republicans and Democrats saw the flaws before the rule was published," said Enzi.
by Virginia Sutcliffe