Ergonomics Movement Regroups

Next week safety and health activists and unions will have another opportunity to confront Congress on the ergonomics issue at a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor.

This is an edited version of an article published on April 12 by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) in the biweekly NYCOSH Update on Safety and Health. For back issues of the NYCOSH Update or for a free subscription, visit www.nycosh.org/biweeklycontents.html.

After President Bush signed the law repealing OSHA's ergonomics standard on March 20, New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) Board Chair William Henning remarked: "Congress could repeal the ergonomics standard, but that won't repeal an ergonomic hazard or prevent a single ergonomic injury. The toll of disabling ergonomic injuries just keeps mounting up, increasing by nearly 5,000 a day."

"The standard could prevent more than half of those injuries," Henning continued. "As far as I'm concerned, the members of Congress who voted to repeal the standard should be charged with assault, because they said that it's okay for an employer to do nothing about an ergonomic hazard that is hurting workers."

On April 26 safety and health activists and unions will have another opportunity to confront Congress on the ergonomics issue when Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., holds a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor to discuss ergonomics.

Specter joined with Sens. John Breaux, D-La., and Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, last month in introducing legislation that directs the Secretary of Labor to issue a final ergonomics rule no later than two years after the measure's passage.

The hearing scheduled next week will include testimony from Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, as well as experts from labor and business.

The AFL-CIO is planning to use the meeting as a focal point for the next round of organizing to win ergonomic protections for workers.

"We are not giving up this fight," said Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Health and Safety Director Bill Borwegen. "Nursing home workers in particular, suffer more ergo-related injuries than any other occupation. We plan to move forward at all levels: workplace, local, state and federal. Continuing the fight will also be the theme for Worker Memorial Day activities around the country."

By the time Specter holds the hearing, more than 175,000 workers will have sustained an ergonomic injury in the six weeks since the standard was repealed, according to projections by the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

AFL-CIO is tallying the number of workers who have sustained an injury from an ergonomic hazard since March 20, when the standard was repealed.

The BLS-based count increases by one every 18 seconds. It has already passed the 100,000 mark.

To view the count, click here to go to the AFL-CIO Web site at www.aflcio.org, and then scroll down to "Safety and Health on the Job" in the right margin.

When Congress and Bush repealed the ergonomics standard last month, unions and safety and health activists began a concerted effort to find a strategy that will protect workers from ergonomic hazards.

"To persuade swing voters in Congress, the Bush administration promised to produce an ergonomics standard, and we're going to hold them to it," said NYCOSH Executive Director Joel Shufro. "Of course, whatever they come up with will certainly not be as strong as the regulation that was just repealed, but we are fighting for a standard that will prevent the needless injuries that are now inflicted on working people."

From the NYCOSH Update on Safety and Health, used with permission

Copyright 2001, New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health Inc.

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