The president of the American Trucking Associations (ATA) applauded a decision by Congress to repeal an OSHA ergonomics rule and the expected endorsement by President George W Bush. The rule was designed to prevent repetitive strain injuries in the workplace, but was criticized by opponents as being ineffectual and enormously costly.
“The American Trucking Associations commends the House of Representatives for a strong vote for basic regulatory fairness,” says Walter McCormick Jr, ATA president and chief executive officer. “The ergonomics rule put forward by the previous administration could not guarantee the prevention of a single workplace injury, yet it would cost US businesses billions of dollars in compliance costs--resources that otherwise could be spend creating jobs.”
The House vote came less than 24 hours after the Senate took similar action. House members voted 223-206 to rescind the ergonomics rules. The vote in the Senate was 56-44.
The ATA estimated the rule would cost the trucking industry $6.5 billion a year. “This despite the fact that our industry, like virtually every other US industry, has seen repetitive stress injuries decline annually for nearly 10 years in a row,” say McCormick.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration had estimated a cost to all businesses of $4.5 billion. The agency also estimated the rule would save $9 billion a year because of the number of reduced injuries and time away from work. However, the Small Business Administration contended that compliance would cost more than $67 billion annually.
A coalition of businesses led by the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers charged that the cost of compliance was so crippling that businesses would be shut down. In addition, the coalition said that the ergonomics rule was so vague and cumbersome that it would be impossible to follow.
Proponents of the issue argue that the rules, based on studies compiled over the past 10 years by OSHA, would be beneficial for workers. They also criticized the brief time Congress spent deliberating the issue. Lawmakers in the House spent just one hour in debate. Republicans leading the opposition to the rule were able to press the deliberation because of a 1996 law that allows Congress to respond with a repeal 60 days after a new rule goes into effect.
“Congress has bought into the big business lie that this will hurt their profits,” said James P Hoffa, president of the Teamsters union. “Companies that choose to invest in their workers and prevent workplace injuries will see a healthier bottom line over time.”
More than 600,000 workers suffer serious repetitive strain and back injuries annually. The union estimates $45 billion is spent each year in insurance claims, lost productivity, and workmen’s compensation. Women are particularly affected, suffering a much higher rate of carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive motion injuries, according to the Teamsters.
The Senate and House voted March 6 and March 7, respectively, to reverse the regulation issued by former President Bill Clinton at the time he was leaving office. They invoked for the first time a 1996 law that allows Congress to undo federal regulations by adopting a joint resolution of disapproval within 60 days of the effective date of a new regulation.
The rule will be returned to President Bush and the Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao for further consideration. Secretary Chao has promised to “pursue a comprehensive approach to ergonomics.” This effort may include a new rulemaking.
Senator John Breaux (D-LA), who voted against the Clinton Administration ergonomics rules, plans to introduce a bill requiring the Labor Department to develop new ergonomics rules within two years. Senator Breaux’s bill would attempt to set some regulatory limits by requiring that new rules be directly related to reported muscular skeletal disorders in the workplace.