Labor Commissioner Deletes N.C.'s Version of Ergo Rules

North Carolina Labor Commissioner Cherrie Berry voided the\r\nstate's version of the ergonomics rules the same day Congress voted\r\nto repeal OSHA's federal ergonomics standard.

North Carolina Labor Commissioner Cherrie Berry deleted the state''s version of the ergonomics rules the same day Congress voted to repeal OSHA''s federal ergonomics standard.

Berry argued that her predecessor, Harry Payne, had adopted the federal ergonomics rules in error.

She issued what is known as a declaratory ruling last Tuesday, voiding the state regulations.

North Carolina adopted federal ergonomics rules verbatim on Nov. 14 while Payne was still in office.

Under the rules, employers would have had to respond immediately to workplace injuries, provide training, change work practices and offer free medical care to workers with musculoskeletal disorders.

State plan states are free to adopt their own ergonomics rules to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, lower back pain and other repetitive stress injuries, but Berry said she thinks businesses will address such problems voluntarily.

"The vast majority of businesses realize the issues that affect their bottom line," she said. "Injured employees have an effect on their bottom line, and I believe they will be looking at any and every way they can to prevent workers to be injured."

She also said the new standards would have "unfairly targeted the state''s manufacturing industry, which has had to trim thousands of jobs in the past few years."

Tom O''Connor, executive director of the North Carolina Occupational Safety and Health Project, a Durham, N.C., worker advocacy group, said voluntary ergonomics programs don''t cut it.

"Unfortunately, half of employers are doing it and the others are not," said O''Connor. "I just think that it''s really bad policy to have a nonpartisan agency spend years and years to develop regulations ... and then have Congress overturn it in a couple of days."

But Phil Kirk, president of North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry, a group that opposed the new rules, said repetitive motion injuries are decreasing in North Carolina -- proof, he said, that companies are addressing such problems.

"Especially now that we''ve got an economic downturn, this is certainly not the time to put additional regulations on businesses," said Kirk.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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