Majority of Senators Appear to Want an Ergonomics Rule

Find out how momentum for a new ergonomics standard appears to be building.

Momentum for a new ergonomics standard appears to be building.

Sen. John Breaux, D-La., with the support of 10 co-sponsors, has introduced a bill that would require the Labor Department to issue an ergonomics standard within two years. A companion bill has been introduced in the House, and a number of professional organizations have issued statements of support for a new standard.

Breaux and six other co-sponsors voted to kill the Clinton administration''s rule, but they contend a better ergonomics standard is necessary. Adding these seven senators to the 44 who voted for the old ergonomics standard, there appears to be a slim 51-49 majority of senators in favor of a new rule.

The bill, S.598, in an attempt to avoid the pitfalls of the previous ergonomics standard, states that the new rule will:

  • Not apply to non-work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), or non-work-related MSDs that are aggravated by work;
  • Set forth clearly when an employer must take action, and what the employer has to do;
  • Not interfere with state workers'' compensation laws.

The American Society of Safety Engineers, the American Industrial Hygiene Association, and the American Public Health Association, have all called on Congress and Labor Secretary Chao to issue a new ergonomics standard. The groups have not taken a position on Breaux''s bill.

In the House, Rep. Christopher John, D-La., introduced a companion measure, H.R. 1241. John''s bill has picked up the support of six co-sponsors, including one Republican, all of whom voted against the previous ergonomics standard.

This means supporters of a new ergo rule are close to a majority in the House as well, but the bill must first move out of the Education and Workforce Committee, which has been focused on education issues.

It is not known how, or when, committee chair Rep. John Boehner, R-Oh., will deal with H.R. 1241, but it does appear that he will not be able to avoid it. "This issue is going to come up," said a committee aide. "It''s just too important not to."

by James Nash

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