GOP Continues Attack on Ergonomics Rule

Four Republican senators introduced a "resolution of disapproval" against OSHA's\r\nergonomics standard late Thursday under the Congressional Review Act.

Four GOP senators, led by Assistant Majority Leader Don Nickles, R-Okla., introduced a "resolution of disapproval" against OSHA''s ergonomics standard late Thursday under the Congressional Review Act (CRA).

If the resolution is approved by a simple majority in each house and is signed by President Bush, the ergonomics rule will be rescinded.

The Washington Post reported on Saturday that a vote could come as early as today. Under the law, no amendments are allowed and debate is limited to 10 hours in the Senate, though Democrats may try to filibuster the motion to take up the resolution.

Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., who has been working to kill the ergonomics standard, is one of the four senators who introduced the resolution.

"I am moving forward with my colleagues on this resolution now because it is in the best interest of workers," said Enzi. "This 600-page gorilla of a rule was pushed through by the Clinton OSHA without adequate consideration of the problems it will cause workers, employers, states and whole industries. This rule is about paperwork, not protection."

Enzi continued, "Before the rule was published last year, we gave OSHA the opportunity to go back and fix the fatal flaws, to listen to the concerns of workers and employers, but those concerns fell on deaf ears. Once this resolution overturns the Clinton OSHA rule, OSHA will have the opportunity to learn more about ergonomic injuries and build on what businesses are already successfully doing in the area of ergonomic injury prevention and protection. The CRA absolutely does not prevent enactment of an ergonomics provision in the future."

The CRA was passed by the Republican-controlled Congress in 1996 and has never been used on a major rule before. It provides a 60-day window for Congress to reject final regulations issued by federal agencies.

A joint resolution of disapproval (JRD) is introduced and automatically referred to the committee of jurisdiction under the CRA. If 30 Senators sign a petition when the JRD is introduced, it bypasses committee and is immediately placed on the calendar.

Under the CRA, if both the House and Senate pass the JRD and the President signs it, the regulation may not be reissued in "substantially the same form."

Bush''s action on the resolution would send a strong signal about the new administration''s attitude toward late Clinton rules and workplace safety.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan told the Post that, "We need to continue to protect the health and safety of workers, but there is concern about burdensome regulations that may have a negative impact on our economy."

Sources said Bush reacted favorably in a meeting last Monday with House and Senate Republicans when Nickles told him about plans to try to kill the ergonomics rule.

Senators Point Out Problems With Ergonomics Rule

Republican senators leading the charge against OSHA''s ergonomics rule have called it "fatally flawed, lengthy and complex, and totally unworkable."

The following are statements from Sen. Mike Enzi''s office on key provisions of the ergonomics rule that GOP senators have expressed concern with:

  • Single Incident Trigger: "The harshness of the single-incident trigger cannot be overstated. If an employee has a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) incident, defined by any of several ''signs'' or ''symptoms,'' the employer must set up a full blown ergonomics program."
  • Makes employers responsible for behavior outside the workplace: "Employers must set up the full ergonomics program as long as something in the workplace in any way ''contributed to'' or ''significantly aggravated'' the MSD. The employer is responsible even if the injury is 99 percent caused by outside activities such as athletics or gardening or outside factors such as age or weight. Moreover, employers are forbidden from inquiring about employees outside risk factors."
  • Requires employers to pay for three employee health care visits: "In response to an MSD incident, the employer must pay for visits to up to three separate health care professionals by the employee complaining of MSD symptoms. The rule prohibits the medical opinion from including any information about the condition being caused by factors outside the workplace."
  • Destroys state workers'' compensation laws: "In spite of the fact that Congress has long chosen not to set up a federal system of workers'' compensation, OSHA''s ergonomics standard does just that -- for MSDs only. It completely undermines state workers'' compensation systems by requiring employers to pay 90 percent of salary for employees who are unable to work and 100 percent of salary for employees placed on light duty due to MSDs. This provision overrides the states'' right to make independent determinations about what constitutes a ''work-related'' injury and what level of compensation injured workers should receive."
  • Recordkeeping requirements: "Employers must keep all records, available upon demand for three years, of the employer''s response to MSD reports and of all employee records of MSD, including MSD signs, symptoms, workplace restrictions, time off work and medical opinions. The rule raises several privacy concerns regarding the availability of medical opinions which may contain sensitive and highly personal information."
  • Will put businesses out of business: "The Small Business Administration and various private analyses estimate that the standard will cost businesses $60 to $100 billion annually. OSHA estimates the cost at $4.5 billion, but uses a 10-year annualized figure incorporating fictionalized savings not realized until several years down the road. Even OSHA''s own first and second year actual cost figures are crippling -- particularly to small businesses without significant resources."

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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