Today's News

Senate ergo hearing: Sparks fly, confusion persists

April 19, 2002
/ Print / Reprints /
ShareMore
/ Text Size+
Labor Secretary Elaine Chao donned her flak jacket and trekked to Capitol Hill April 18th to explain OSHA's recently announced ergonomics plan that relies on voluntary compliance to members of a Senate subcommittee on workplace safety, and to field questions from hostile Democrats who want OSHA to draft another ergo standard.

For a subcommittee hearing, an unusually high number of senators turned out - four Democrats and five Republicans - evidence that ergonomics is one of the hot labor issues in Washington these days. A C-SPAN camera was rolling. Reporters from the likes of the Gannet news service, Dow Jones news service, the Associated Press and the New York Times crowded the press table. Business lobbyists and union officials, injured workers, and reps from trade associations and professional societies watched the grilling.

Senate Democrats, including Ten Kennedy of Massachusetts, Paul Wellstone of Minnesota and Hillary Clinton of New York, worked over the Labor Department head for 90 minutes. Republicans offered moral support and generally congratulated her on the plan.

Chao used the hearing to announce that nursing homes will be the first to get guidelines. But Kennedy was taken aback when she explained that the guidelines and enforcement are "delinked" - failure to follow the guidelines will not, and cannot, be used to issue a general duty clause citation.

(The Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to broadly provide a workplace free from recognized hazards, which is being interpreted to include ergo hazards.)

Said Kennedy: "The long-awaited plan of action by the administration falls far short of protecting America's workers. It is not the "comprehensive approach to ergonomics" promised by the President and the Secretary over a year ago. In fact, it is really only a plan to come up with a plan."

Kennedy argued for an ergo standard, declaring that most corporations will simply ignore what he labeled "toothless guidelines."

Clinton asked if states that run their own OSHA programs will be required to incorporate voluntary guidelines. The answer seems to be no.

But that's just one issue that left attendees still confused after the hearing. Chao emphasized that the guidelines will be enforced, but not directly through general duty clause citations. And the timetable for issuing guidelines is still unclear. Early on, Chao made it sound like guidelines for nursing homes will be coming out any day now. But when Kennedy pressed for clarification, Chao answered that the guidelines will come out by the end of the year.

Kennedy railed: "The first Bush Administration recognized the failure of voluntary guidelines, compliance assistance and enforcement under the general duty clause and began to develop a nationwide (ergo) standard ten years ago. Instead of taking seriously the lessons of history, this administration is protecting employers who ignore the safety of their workers."

Republicans see it all quite differently, naturally. OSHA is on the right track with its plan, according to Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming.

Said Enzi: "Companies must be given the flexibility to implement ergonomics programs tailored to their particular needs and capabilities - not the complex formulas that are difficult to find, let alone follow, that were referenced but not provided in the repealed rule."

Enzi said significant legal, scientific and technical issues remain unresolved, blocking any chance of a standard. Current science cannot accurately attribute ergonomic injuries to work-related versus non-work-related factors, and the economic and technical feasibility of an ergo rule has not been supported, he claimed.

"Perhaps we should be asking what can be done to reduce ergonomic injuries at home and with hobbies and recreation. Since home and hobbies affect work, I'm sure businesses would be willing to help - but not to shoulder all the responsibility of an inspect and fine mentality," said Enzi.

Did you enjoy this article? Click here to subscribe to ISHN.

You must login or register in order to post a comment.

STAY CONNECTED

Facebook logo Twitter YouTubeLinkedIn

Multimedia

Videos

Image Galleries

ASSE's Safety 2013 Review

A photo gallery from the Las Vegas Convention Center, where ASSE’s annual professional development conference was held June 24 to 27. All photos courtesy of the American Society of Safety Engineers.

THE MAGAZINE

ISHN Magazine

ishn april 2014 issue cover

2014 April

In this month's issue of ISHN, check out features about safety in the oil and gas industry.

Table Of Contents Subscribe

THE ISHN STORE

M:\General Shared\__AEC Store Katie Z\AEC Store\Images\ISHN\safetyfourth.jpg
Safety Engineering, 4th Edition

A practical, solutions-driven reference, Safety Engineering, 4th edition, has been completely revised and updated to reflect many of today’s issues in safety.

More Products

For Distributors Only - January 2014

ISHN0114_FDO_cov.jpgFor Distributors Only is ISHN's niche brand standard-sized magazine supplement aimed at an audience of 2,000 U.S. distributors that sell safety products. Circulation only goes to distributors. CHECK OUT THEJANUAYR 2014 ISSUE OF FDO HERE

ishn infographics

2012 US workplace deathsCheck out ISHN's new Infographic page! Learn more about worker safety through these interactive images. CLICK HERE to view the page.