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Bush Set to Repeal Clinton's Ergonomics Rule


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March 7, 2001 (Washington) -- After a heated debate pitting labor against Republicans, the House followed the Senate's lead and voted Wednesday to repeal a controversial Clinton administration rule aimed at curbing repetitive motion stress injuries in the workplace. The House vote, closely mirroring party lines, came as no surprise and clears the way for President George W. Bush to finalize the repeal. Senate Republicans passed the resolution against the Clinton rule late Tuesday.

The so-called ergonomics rule, which was scheduled to take effect in October, would have been one of the most sweeping regulations governing the workplace, affecting more than an estimated 1 million workers.

The 600-page rule would have forced companies to alter their workstations, redesign their facilities, or change their tools and equipment if their employees suffered work-related injuries from repetitive motions. The rule also would have required in part that disabled workers receive more compensation than is provided for by many state compensation laws.

The rule was the product of a 10-year effort by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to prevent musculoskeletal disorders at the workplace, such as carpal tunnel syndrome or chronic back pain. It was based upon the science of ergonomics, or the designing of workplace equipment to accommodate workers who perform repetitive tasks, such as typing on a keyboard.

Republicans said the rule was too costly. They added that the repeal of this legislation would allow for a new rule-making process that would be more responsive to the needs of both big and small businesses.

"In fact, by jettisoning this burdensome and unworkable standard, we will be eliminating a roadblock to consideration of more reasonable approaches," said Sen. Jim Jeffords, (R-Vt.), a staunch opponent of the OSHA rule.

Rep. Charlie Norwood, (R-Ga.), argued that repealing the ergonomics rule was not a strike against workers, "it's repealing a bad rule."

OSHA estimated the cost to employers at about $4.5 billion a year. OSHA also estimated that businesses would save approximately $9.1 billion a year in lost worker productivity.

Republicans said the actual cost would top $100 billion a year. This figure was derived by a coalition of more than 250 businesses, which contended that OSHA failed to account for all the possible outlays.

Democrats defended the original OSHA estimates.

"It isn't the Department of Labor talking about $4 billion worth of expenditures, it's about the Department of Labor talking about $4 billion worth of savings," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, (D-Mass.), a leading defender of organized labor.

Kennedy said that repealing the rule would threaten the rights of working Americans.

"Instead of helping hard-working Americans, this resolution is a big thank-you to big business for all their support. It's politics at its worst. And it leaves average American workers defenseless against today's workplace injuries," Kennedy said. "Let America's workers be on guard. Your rights and your dignity and your hard work are no longer respected."

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