Washington Voters Repeal Ergonomics Standard

The voters in Washington have spoken, and what they've said is: "We don't want an ergonomics standard."

Initiative 841, approved by voters across the state in Tuesday's election, repeals Washington state's ergonomics standard, which was adopted in May 2000 and originally scheduled to be enforced in 2003. The road was rocky for the ergonomics standard from the start.

Not too long after the regulation was adopted, in March 2001, the Washington State Senate voted to delay implementation until 2005. In March 2002, Gov. Gary Locke instructed the state's Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) to implement the 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.

The rule focused on preventing injuries rather than on what happens after a worker is injured. It required employers to change workplaces to protect employees from disorders such as back strain, tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome that can develop from repetitive motions. The plan was for the program to initially focus on employers with the highest risk of injuries, including sawmills, nursing homes and building trades.

Opponents of the ergonomic rule worried that the cost of implementation estimated at $80 million a year by the state and as much as &700 million by the Association of Washington Business, which opposed the rule could drive smaller employers out of business.

Construction was one industry expected to be especially hard-hit by the regulation. Tom McCabe, executive vice president of the Building Industry Association of Washington, said repeal of the ergonomic regulation "absolutely means more jobs. Jobs was the message here, that message resonated with the voters."

His group was the driving force behind repeal of the ergonomic regulation, coordinating a million-dollar campaign that ranged from paying people to go out and gather signatures on petitions to get the measure on the ballot to controversial television ads, which critics claim distorted the impact of the ergonomics measure on jobs in the state.

Ergonomic-related injuries account for 30 percent of the state's workers' compensation cases.

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