Labor Secretary-designate Pressed on Ergonomics

Jan. 25, 2001
Three Democratic senators pressed Elaine Chao, Bush's choice for labor secretary, on whether she would enforce or rescind OSHA's recently issued ergonomics standard.

Senators gave President Bush''s choice to head the labor department, Elaine Chao, a generally warm reception at her confirmation hearing yesterday.

Chao won praise for her distinguished record at bringing diverse groups together in a career spanning theprivate, public, and non-profit sectors. Before the hearing was over a spokesperson for the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions said the only thing holding up Chao''s confirmation is final clearance from the F.B.I., which had not completed its obligatory background check of the nominee.

The only issue that at times threatened to spoil the party was ergonomics.

Three Democratic senators pressed Chao on whether she would enforce or rescind OSHA''s recently issued ergonomics standard, and Chao repeatedly declined to state her position.

"If there''s one thing I''ve already learned, it''s that this is the most visible issue in the department [of labor]," Chao told Sen Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.

Chao said that one of her first responsibilities will be to make sure she understands the issue, which she said is very complicated, and she committed herself to a thorough review of the standard.

Perhaps most noteworthy was how rarely Republican Senators mentioned ergonomics.

Sen. Michael Enzi, R-Wyo., preferred to ask questions about updating OSHA'' rulemaking process and encouraging OSHA to spend more money on compliance assistance.

Chao said she looked forward to working with Enzi on these issues.

Sen. Tim Hutchinson, R-Ark., brought up ergonomics, but only to say that after the release of the National Academy Sciences (NAS) study, "the question now is not whether to do something about ergonomics, but how." The NAS study supported the effectiveness of some workplace programs designed to reduce ergonomic injuries.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., urged Chao to pay attention to Occupational Hazards'' 2000 Champion of Safety Ron Hayes, an Alabama native and an occasional critic of OSHA.

Sessions said Hayes has criticized OSHA for caring more about paperwork than protecting workers and preventing injuries.

"I agree," replied Chao. "OSHA needs to be more on the preventive side."

by James Nash

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Dave Blanchard, Editor-in-Chief: During his career Dave has led the editorial management of many of Endeavor Business Media's best-known brands, including IndustryWeekEHS Today, Material Handling & LogisticsLogistics Today, Supply Chain Technology News, and Business Finance. In addition, he serves as senior content director of the annual Safety Leadership Conference. With over 30 years of B2B media experience, Dave literally wrote the book on supply chain management, Supply Chain Management Best Practices (John Wiley & Sons, 2021), which has been translated into several languages and is currently in its third edition. He is a frequent speaker and moderator at major trade shows and conferences, and has won numerous awards for writing and editing. He is a voting member of the jury of the Logistics Hall of Fame, and is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.

Adrienne Selko, Senior Editor: In addition to her roles with EHS Today and the Safety Leadership Conference, Adrienne is also a senior editor at IndustryWeek and has written about many topics, with her current focus on workforce development strategies. She is also a senior editor at Material Handling & Logistics. Previously she was in corporate communications at a medical manufacturing company as well as a large regional bank. She is the author of Do I Have to Wear Garlic Around My Neck?, which made the Cleveland Plain Dealer's best sellers list.

Nicole Stempak, Managing Editor:  Nicole Stempak is managing editor of EHS Today and conference content manager of the Safety Leadership Conference.

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