Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., endorsed the Department of Labor''s (DOL) string of ergonomics forums Wednesday during a Senate subcomittee hearing on ergonomics.
Enzi is the former chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee on Employment and Safety and Training and now the ranking Republican member since the Democrats took control of the Senate.
Enzi, who has long-been against OSHA''s ergonomics rule, was one four GOP senators who, in March, introduced a joint resolution of disapproval against the standard that ultimately led to its demise.
At the subcommittee hearing, Enzi was supportive of OSHA''s efforts to gather more information on ergonomics through the recent forums taking place this month around the country.
"I share [Labor Secretary Elaine Chao''s] position that more information on the science of ergonomics, particularly the attribution of such injuries to either work or non-work related activities, is needed before any new policy can be implemented," said Enzi.
Enzi also pointed out that there is dissension among the experts about whether certain ergonomics injuries are at all related to workplace activities.
"Not only was there a dissenting opinion by a participant on the National Academy of Sciences study panel challenging the connection between work exposure and carpal tunnel syndrome, but a Mayo Clinic study conducted last month concluded that computer use posed no increased risk of carpal tunnel syndrome," said Enzi. Given the scientific evidence, it is clear that we should educate and encourage employers to prevent ergonomics injuries. Where the science lacks clarity is in how to attribute ergonomics injuries to work exposure and, consequently, penalize employers for preventing only those actually caused by the workplace while encouraging them to help solve all repetitive motion injuries."
"A process has been undertaken by the Department of Labor. This is absolutely an administrative -- not a legislative -- matter and should be handled accordingly," continued Enzi. "We should not impede but rather support this process."
DOL said the ergonomics forums were designed to be "as fair and balanced as possible," with representation from the medical community, labor unions, business groups and social services. However, labor unions have been protesting the forums, saying they are stacked in favor of big business.
AFL-CIO members demonstrated outside George Mason University this week, where the first of the three forums took place, calling the forums a "sham."
In response to AFL-CIO''s complaint that they were not given enough speaking slots, Enzi said, "DOL has pointed out that organized labor was, in fact, over-represented at the forums, having been given three out of 10 speaking slots -- more than they requested -- while they represent only one in 10 workers."
OSHA''s ergonomics forums will resume today at the University of Chicago.
by Virginia Sutcliffe-Foran