Washington state's controversial ergonomics rules, crafted by some of the same regulators who shaped federal OSHA's ill-fated ergo standard, were overturned in a ballot referendum this week.

Washington's ergo rules had been under heavy fire from business groups, who were major supporters of the initiative to repeal the law. Fifty-three percent of voters pulled the lever in favor of killing the rules.

Lobbying efforts on both sides attracted national attention. The rules were issued in 2000, making Washington the first state to regulate workplace ergonomics. After OSHA's ergo standard was overturned by Congress in 2001, Washington's rules became a lightning rod for the decades-long debate over regulating ergonomics.

The rules had survived lawsuits and a multiyear assault in the state legislature.

The Building Industry Association of Washington raised $1.4 million to support the ballot initiative to repeal the rules, with most of the money spent on a TV campaign that "portrayed the rules as job-killing regulation run amok," according to The Olympian, an Olympia, Wash., newspaper.

The state's Labor Council led a coalition of unions and other groups that argued the rules would prevent an estimated 50,000 injuries every year.

The rules actually never took effect. Political pressure had delayed enforcement until July 2005 at the earliest. Businesses would have been required to review jobs to see if they required body movements that would put an employee into a caution or hazard zone, then take steps to lower the risk.

"Jobs was the message here, that message resonated with the voters," Tom McCabe, executive vice president of the Building Industry Association of Washington, told The Olympian.

Rick Bender, president of the State Labor Council, concurred. "The economy is tough right now. People are scared about losing their jobs," he told The Olympian.

"I'm disappointed," Washington Gov. Gary Locke told reporters. "We're going to continue our efforts in education, outreach and demonstration projects."