It has taken American workers 10 years to gain protection from musculoskeletal disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis.
In a marked contrast, it took Congress just two days, with the help of an esoteric rule that limits debate on the floor, to repeal workplace rules aimed at preventing repetitive motion injuries. These regulations, created by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, will be the first safety standards to be reversed in the agency?s 30-year history, pending President George W. Bush?s signature.
Unfortunately for workers across the country, the president has already signaled he will sign the repeal.
The ergonomic standards were adopted by the Department of Labor last year and approved by former President Bill Clinton during his final days in office. The standards were an important preventative measure that emphasized worker education. However, the additional requirement that some work environments and equipment be changed to ensure the safety of the workers was strongly opposed by businesses that perceive it as a money-losing venture. Nearly all Republicans have sided with businesses on this issue, arguing that the compliance costs would be as much as $100 million per year, which would be transferred to consumers.
However, OSHA reports the regulations would actually save businesses an average of $9.1 billion per year in the first 10 years of their implementation. Annually, close to one million Americans report taking time off from work as a result of musculoskeletal problems.
Moderate estimates place the cost between $45 billion and $54 billion in lost wages and productivity each year.
These debilitating injuries are easily preventable and the 6.1 million work sites covered by the regulations were given a large amount of flexibility to design specific solutions.
Sadly, employers will simply fire workers once they develop these disabilities instead of helping individuals to alleviate the problem.
In addition to typing and other computer-related ergonomic problems, the regulations targeted any repetitive motion such as assembly line work and heavy lifting.
Many workers ignore increasing pain because they have no economic alternative and once their disabilities hinder their performance, they are terminated.
Also, women face the greatest risk of these types of injuries, accounting for 71 percent of work-related carpal tunnel problems.
In addition to improving the health and morale of workers and increasing product quality, the standards could have saved businesses on workers? compensation payments and lost workdays. Creating safer workplaces by using the OSHA guidelines would have been in the best interest of employers and employees.
Despite this, Congress used the Congressional Review Act of 1996 for the first time to overturn the regulations.
This not only restricted public debate on the issue but also could essentially prohibit the Labor Department from issuing future ergonomic rules.
By signing the repeal, Bush will jeopardize the health and safety of millions of American workers.