Ergonomics Battle Won By Business

March 22, 2001
In a fight to the death, an uncommonly unified business community\r\nbanded together to overturn OSHA's ergonomics rules.

In a fight to the death, an uncommonly unified business community banned together to overturn OSHA''s ergonomics rules.

President Bush signed a repeal Tuesday of the ergonomics standard intended to prevent workplace injuries.

The measure sailed through Congress earlier this month with help from business interests that criticized the rules'' cost and scope.

"The ergonomics rule would have cost both large and small employers billions of dollars and presented employers with overwhelming compliance challenges," said Bush.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce welcomed Bush''s signature repealing the ergonomics rule which it called "ill-conceived, expensive and unscientific."

"The ergo rule was overbroad and unreasonable, exemplifying irresponsible government at its worst," said Randel Johnson, U.S. Chamber vice president.

The American Trucking Association (ATA) was one of many business groups involved in a combined lawsuit against OSHA over the ergonomics rule.

"This rule failed because OSHA couldn''t hide from the fact that there is no medical consensus on how to treat, prevent or even properly diagnose repetitive stress injuries," said ATA President Walter McCormick Jr. "The government''s own regulators couldn''t tell companies how to comply with this rule because the science just isn''t there."

Organized labor helped to get the rules finalized in the waning days of the Clinton Administration but business groups renewed their offensive against the rules just after Bush won the presidential election.

As Republicans, led by Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., prepared to speed the repeal, business groups mobilized their support, flooding the Capitol with phone calls, faxes, e-mails and visits.

Enzi, who chairs the Senate subcommittee with oversight authority over OSHA, led the floor debate to use the Congressional Review Act to overturn the rule.

"[The ergonomics standard] could have hurt workers and consumers alike by paralyzing businesses across the country and causing dramatic price hikes for goods and services," said Enzi.

Business gave $1.2 billion in contributions for last year''s federal elections, of which more than 57 percent went to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Labor anted up $90.3 million, of which 94 percent went to Democrats.

The unions and Democrats worked furiously to hold onto support by moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats who had voted with them on previous ergonomics legislation and other union-favored issues. But they could not maintain the coalition.

Six Democratic senators voted with the unanimous Republican alliance for repeal, and in the House, 16 Democrats broke rank, though the union picked up 13 Republicans.

Enzi said he was committed to working with Democrats, labor and other ergonomic rule proponents to find workable solutions that will help alleviate ergonomic problems in the workforce.

"I believe we need to address the ergonomics issue soon," said Enzi. "We need to take a look at what businesses are already doing, existing scientific data and comments mad eon the failed rule to pull this thing together to form a workable and practical solution to the problem."

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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