Ergonomics is the defining OSHA issue in the Gore-Bush contest. The Democratic platform states: “We are fighting for a new ergonomics standard,” while the GOP platform promises to withdraw the ergo proposal.

“It’s the difference between contending with a billion-dollar, hard-core standard or no standard at all,” says one safety manager in Texas.

Nancy Lessin of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO says it’s a “fantasy” to believe a Republican OSHA chief will issue an ergonomics rule. She says the election will determine “whether you have an agency that regulates and enforces or does not.”

Some Washington observers see Gore having a bigger impact with environmental laws than job safety and health if he wins. If Bush wins, “you’ll see OSHA under a lot more scrutiny — audits, reviews, studies; a halt to all regulations, and a major push for training and education,” says one GOP insider.