Fuel Smarts

House Goes Along With Senate Vote On Ergonomics Rules

March 07, 2001

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The U.S. House voted late yesterday to go along with a Senate decision on Tuesday to overturn new ergonomics rules introduced just before President Clinton left office.

The vote, largely along party lines of 223-206, follows a Senate vote where all 50 Republicans and six Democrats voted to do away with the new rules from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration. OSHA claimed the new rules would protect more than 10 million workers from 4.6 million musculoskeletal disorders in the first 10 years they were to be in effect. President Bush, who has criticized the new rules that were supposed to be enforced starting in October, is expected to sign the legislation.
Both the House and Senate used a little known provision, the Congressional Review Act, to overturn the regulations.
A broad coalition of business groups, including the American Trucking Associations, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business, disagreed, saying the cost would be as much as $100 billion a year, and the rules were never subjected to a review by the National Academy of Sciences as originally intended.
Democrats, supported by organized labor, sharply disagreed, saying there had been 10 years of work to develop the rules.
ATA President Walter McCormick released a statement supporting the decision. "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," he said. "The government's own regulators couldn't tell companies how to comply with this rule because the science just isn’t there. That should have been enough to stop the rule before it was finalized. It wasn't. With this vote by the House—a vote we fully expect will be upheld by President Bush — Congress made clear that science and fairness come first in the regulatory process, and that checks and balances exist not just to protect the regulators, but also the regulated."
Teamsters Union president James Hoffa issued a statement blasting the votes, saying "the ergonomics rule took more than 10 years of solid research to formulate, yet in less than three weeks the United States Congress has repealed it," he said. "The priorities of the Congress are clear: Corporate profits matter more than working people."
OSHA claimed the new rules, while costing $4.5 billion dollars annually to implement, would result in an average annual savings of more than $9 billion by preventing problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome and other ailments related to repetitive motion, force, awkward posture and vibration.
Yesterday, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao indicated in a letter that the federal agency may take another crack at issuing ergonomics rules, but promised to address "the concerns levied against the current standard." Democrats argue that may not be possible; the Congressional Review Act may prohibit new rules from being issued unless approved by Congress.

For a look at the overturned ergononomics regulations as announced in November, see "OSHA Issues New Ergonomics Rule," 11/14/2000.

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