In testimony submitted at the OSHA ergonomics forum held yesterday in Fairfax, Va., Eric Oxfeld, president of UWC -- Strategic Services on Unemployment Compensation and Workers'' Compensation, said any new OSHA rules on ergonomics will hurt workers and disrupt state workers'' compensation.
UWC is a national association that provides legislative and regulatory representation for the business community in connection with national unemployment insurance and workers'' compensation public policy issues.
"UWC supports the hearings and encourages Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao to develop a comprehensive record before issuing any new ergonomics policies," said Oxfeld. "but OSHA must not override the judgment of state legislatures regarding when and how much compensation employers must pay injured workers by mandating ''work restriction protection'' (WRP) payments or similar compensation requirements in any new ergonomics regulation."
In the original ergonomics standard promulgated by OSHA, WRP mandated that employers continue wages and benefits for workers who cannot work or accept lower paying jobs following symptoms OSHA believes may be caused by work.
Oxfeld said states already provide work restriction protection through their workers'' compensation systems when workers are hurt on the job.
"Unlike OSHA, states have consciously balanced worker rights and employer obligations with respect to compensation for on-the-job injuries," noted Oxfeld.
"Furthermore, the Occupational Health and Safety Act expressly prohibits OSHA from issuing any standard that ''supersedes'' or ''in any manner affects'' any aspect of state workers'' compensation laws, including provisions related to compensation for work related injuries. OSHA can implement workplace safety standards to prevent injuries, but cannot mandate compensation for injuries that have already occurred."
In his written testimony, Oxfeld also illustrated the group''s concern over the definition of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) as it relates to the prior ergonomics rules.
"[The prior ergonomics regulations] diluted the specific causation requirement and eliminated the requirement of actual injury under state workers'' compensation laws," said Oxfeld. "These regulations would have mandated compensation for any alleged ergonomics injury if a healthcare provider stated that the physical work activities and conditions in the job might have caused or contributed to the type of injury reported."
by Virginia Sutcliffe