Labor Secretary Elaine L Chao announced June 7 that she would convene three national public forums on ergonomics safety in the workplace. She said she plans to identify a final course of action on the issue by September.
"We are bringing everyone to the table to get this important issue moving forward and resolved," Chao said. "Defining the best approach for ergonomic injuries is not a simple process and we need everyone’s voice heard in the process. Guiding principles will provide a vital starting point for evaluating the issue and a point from which we can decide a final course of action."
The forums will be held in Washington DC on July 16, Illinois on July 20, and California on July 24, 2001. Members of the public may speak at a forum or submit written comments. An administrative law judge will run the forums, which will include participation by the secretary and other senior Department of Labor officials.
Congress passed, and on March 20, 2001 the President signed, a Joint Resolution of Disapproval of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s initial ergonomics standard. At that time, Chao said that her intent was to "listen to all sides on this issue: unions, Congress, business and safety and science professionals."
In subsequent testimony before Congress, Chao identified the following set of principles that the Department of Labor will use as a starting point for creating a new ergonomics approach:
Prevention: The approach should place greater emphasis on preventing injuries before they occur.
Sound Science: The approach should be based on the best available science and research.
Incentive Driven: The approach should focus on cooperation between OSHA and employers.
Flexibility: The approach should take account of the varying capabilities and characteristics of different businesses.
Feasibility: Future actions must recognize the costs of compliance to small businesses.
Clarity: Any approach must include short, simple and common sense instructions.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 582,300 musculoskeletal injuries that resulted in employees missing time from work in 1999, the last year for which statistics are available. That was down from 1998 figures, which showed 592,500 such injuries and down from more than 763,000 in 1993.