Congress and the Clinton administration are one step closer to a showdown over the publication of ergonomics standards after the House Education and Workforce Committee voted 23-18 on June 23 to send legislation to the House floor that would require OSHA to delay issuing standard until 2001.
The Workplace Preservation Act (H.R. 987), sponsored by Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., would require OSHA not to publish its ergonomics standard until the National Academy of Science (NAS) completes a literature review of research on the subject. If Congress passes the bill, Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman said she will ask President Clinton to veto it.
Committee Chairman William Goodling, R-Pa., defended the need for more research by arguing that ergonomics regulation would be a substantial mandated cost on American companies. He said that, according to OSHA estimates, the regulation would cost $3.5 billion per year. "H.R. 987 is a very simple bill," Goodling said. "If we went out and explained this legislation to most people, they would wonder what the debate was about."
But according to Herman, a two-year delay in promulgating the ergonomics standards will cost the U.S. economy more than $100 billion and result in 1 million additional injuries and illnesses for American workers.
"The scientific and medical experts agree. Biomechanical stress at work causes injury," Herman said. "Even more important, we know how to reduce these stresses and cut the risk of injury."
Rep. Cass Ballenger, R-N.C., a member of the House committee, charged in a letter earlier this year to his colleagues that, because OSHA had no quantitative risk information on biomechanical stresses on the job, its regulation adopts a "zero risk" approach to the ergonomics problem. Ballenger argued that the costs of such regulation are too high to be justified without further research proving what prevents injury.
Not so, according to OSHA Public Affairs Specialist Susan Fleming. An ergonomics program would be mandated only for production jobs in manufacturing and jobs requiring manual lifting.
"In other industries, there would have to be a program only when there is an injury," Fleming said. "If you're waiting for an injury to occur, that's not zero risk."