Republican Leaders in House, Senate Split Over New Ergo Rule

Rep. Charlie Norwood's, R-Ga., position on ergonomics is at odds with that of Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who chairs the Senate appropriations subcommittee\r\nthat handles OSHA's budget.

In his first speech as chairman of the House Workforce Protections Subcommittee Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., said he supported Labor Secretary Chao''s refusal to set a deadline for a new ergonomics regulation. Norwood''s position is at odds with that of Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who chairs the Senate appropriations subcommittee that handles OSHA''s budget.

Norwood, who spoke May 9 to the Organization of Resources Counselors in Washington, D.C., also said he would like OSHA to place more emphasis on compliance assistance, incentives and education to improve workplace safety.

Norwood expressed support for OSHA''s mission of assuring a safe workplace, but he argued that an agency with an annual budget of only $425 million and 2,300 full-time employees could not keep up with the 6 million workplaces in the United States.

"I believe that we cannot rely strictly upon OSHA to make that workplace a reality for every working man and woman," Norwood said.

A former dentist, Norwood told the gathering he ran for Congress because of the burdensome workplace regulations Washington imposed on his practice. The subcommittee he now chairs has generally taken the lead in the House on OSHA oversight and reform.

"I would like to see OSHA, at the time it completes a rule, also provide assistance through consultations, advice, and written materials, on what it takes to be in compliance with the rule," Norwood said. "A ''no penalty period'' once a rule has been published, would provide an opportunity for education and training as a means to get as many worksites as possible into compliance."

The Georgia congressman addressed OSHA rulemaking in general and in particular. He called for regulations based on sensible priorities where there are significant risks to workplace safety, and rulemaking process that gives a fair hearing to all interested parties.

With respect to ergonomic rulemaking, Norwood said he would not insist on a new deadline for the Labor Department to craft a new standard.

"I take Secretary Chao at her word that she is going to do something about ergonomics, and given that she does not have her full staff in place, I think it is only fair to give her the chance to get her people in place."

Nearly four months into the Bush administration, no one has yet been named to fill the OSHA administrator position.

by James Nash

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