USA Today 11/23/99
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Business blasts new OSHA workplace rulesOSHA proposal affects:
WASHINGTON (AP) - Business groups are threatening court action to block proposed new rules intended to protect American workers from repetitive-motion injuries.
Businesses face an estimated $4.2 billion in annual costs to fix job sites and pay workers recovering from injuries under the initiative announced Monday by the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
''If OSHA persists in pushing forward this ill-considered regulation, then we will meet them in court,'' said Randel Johnson, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's vice president for labor policy.
But labor leaders welcomed the initiative.
''Government action to prevent the crippling of working men and women is long overdue,'' said John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, the nation's largest labor federation.
The new workplace ergonomics regulations, long promised by the Clinton administration, had been delayed for years as the Republican-controlled Congress, under pressure from business groups, repeatedly passed legislation requiring more scientific studies.
The House voted to put another hold on the rules this fall, but the Senate adjourned for the year Friday without acting. After lawmakers left town this weekend, the administration rushed to roll out its proposal.
''We are compelled to act. Employees are getting hurt. Workers are being sent home. People are suffering,'' said Charles N. Jeffress, assistant labor secretary for occupational safety and health.
Republicans on the House Education and Workforce Committee, including chairman Bill Goodling, R-Pa., said Monday in a written statement that OSHA should delay action until a National Academy of Sciences study is completed in 2001.
''An ergonomics regulation would be a substantial mandated cost on American companies and the economy,'' said the GOP statement.
The proposed rules, being published in today's Federal Register, cannot become final before next year in any case, after a comment period that will include hearings in Washington and other cities starting in February.
Existing workplace safety regulations are aimed mainly at preventing mishaps, such as falls. The new rules also would require employers to minimize everyday physical - or ergonomic - stresses of certain jobs.
Each year, 1.8 million workers have musculoskeletal injuries related to ergonomic factors, and 600,000 people miss some work because of them, according to the OSHA.
The injuries to muscles, nerves, ligaments and tendons include such problems as carpal tunnel syndrome, back pain and tendinitis.
The new rules would cover a broad range of workers from nurses to baggage handlers at airports and people who work at computers or on assembly lines.
About 60% of ergonomic injuries currently are in manufacturing and jobs that require heavy lifting, but repetitive stress injuries from office work are on the rise.