Washington State Delays Ergonomics Standard Enforcement

Washington Governor Gary Locke instructs the state's Department of Labor and Industries \r\nto implement the state's ergonomics rule but asks that enforcement be delayed until July 2004.

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Washington Governor Gary Locke announced Tuesday morning that he instructed the state''s Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) to implement the state''s ergonomics rule but asked that enforcement be delayed until July 2004. He also directed L&I to impose no penalties under the rule for two years after each effective date on the rule''s timeline.

"There is fear in some industries that these new rules might require costly investments in new equipment, ergonomic consultants, and detailed studies," Locke said. "I believe these fears are unfounded. However, as the national leader, it is incumbent upon us to proceed carefully.

"We must be certain that the department has had ample opportunity to provide more consultation services to employers," he added.

Although Locke expressed support for the rule and threatened to veto any legislative attempt to repeal it, his action Tuesday was a serious setback for labor groups lobbying for enforcement of the rule.

"Governor Gary Locke has turned his back on the state''s obligation to protect its citizens from unsafe workplaces. Apparently, the safety and health of our state''s workers can wait until after the next election," said Rick Bender, president of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO.

In announcing the delay, Locke appears to be ignoring the advice of his own Blue Ribbon Panel on Ergonomics, which he appointed to review efforts by the Department of Labor and Industries to implement the state''s ergonomics rule adopted May 26, 2000. The nine-member Blue Ribbon Panel was composed primarily of business representatives - from Boeing, General Motors and Perdue Farms - and academics, with two representatives from labor.

In a report issued Monday, the panel reported the demonstration projects that were set up by L&I to test the ergonomics rules met their objectives and proved the rule is understandable. They also agreed the educational materials developed by the department to explain the rule are effective and widely available. The rules are clearly written, noted the panel, and together with the supporting educational materials, are understandable. Finally, said the panel, the enforcement policies and procedures developed by the department provide a foundation for fair and consistent enforcement.

In a letter to state legislative leaders, Locke noted that he is "pleased that the panel has found that the efforts taken so far have been successful. This is a testament to the department''s exhaustive efforts and diligence in crafting the rule. We must pursue all feasible solutions to prevent workplace injuries that can be economically avoided. Accordingly, the ergonomics rule will go into effect as written."

by Sandy Smith ([email protected])

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