Politics works strange magic with regulatory agencies like OSHA.

As you know, the agency has been blasted for years about the painfully slow and protracted process of setting standards. But faced with the impending change in White House leadership, OSHA (along with higher ups at the Department of Labor and the Office of Management and Budget) mobilized quickly and managed to release three new rules just days before George W. Bush took office.

This action comes on top of the much ballyhooed ergonomics rule issued after the election, and which took effect January 16, four days before the inauguration.

It’s anyone’s guess right now what will happen to these rules once the Bush people take over. Outgoing OSHA chief Charles Jeffress says there is broad labor-management support for the new regulations on recordkeeping and steel erection, and he believes the chances are good that Republicans will keep their hands off these rules. The new requirements for needlestick protection are mandated by a law passed by Congress, so they won’t be touched.

Ergonomics of course is another, much more convoluted story. The National Academy of Sciences released its long-awaited report on the relationship between risk factors at work and musculoskeletal disorders on January 18, 2001, and concluded that a connection does exist. OSHA officials took that as a ringing endorsement of their standard. Opponents said the study was the product of “left-leaning eggheads” and zeroed in on findings that ergo problems occur in a limited number of jobs — meaning that the OSHA standard is far too broad in its scope.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that aides to George W. Bush say the ergo rule is likely to be held up with a temporary stay while new OSHA appointees begin work on modifying or overturning the regulation.

ISHN will report on OSHA decisions by the Bush administration as they occur.