WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Republican-dominated U.S. Senate yesterday began the process of killing former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s bill to reduce workplace injuries.
President George W. Bush has vowed to provide the bill’s death blow by signing a resolution calling the bill null and void.
That flick of the pen would also prevent the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) from enacting substantially similar regulations in the future.
“This ergonomic rule that the Clinton administration tried to cram though right in the last days of office is finished,” says Don Nickles, a Republican Senator from Oklahoma.
OSHA calculates that an estimates 1.8 million U.S. workers suffer repetitive-stress injuries every year, and 600,000 of them have to take time off work to recover.
The regulations would have covered about 100 million workers in 6 million workplaces, forcing employers to alter working conditions to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal disorders.
Disorders ranging from chronic back injuries to wrist injuries to carpal tunnel syndrome would have been effected by the legislation.
The new rules would have forced companies to act after receiving a single complaint, redesigning tasks and paying out more generous benefits than called for under state worker compensation plans.
OSHA estimates the rules will cost US$4.5-billion to implement, but will save $9-billion by reducing payouts due to fewer injuries.
“Hogwash,” says Nickles, arguing that business groups put the cost at anywhere from $60-billion to $123-billion.
A coalition of 250 industry associations and groups has filed more than a dozen lawsuits over the regulations, which were supposed to go into force by October.
The American Trucking Associations’ president and chief executive officer Walter B. McCormick was happy with the Senate’s killing of the bill. Calling the rule “ill-conceived,” he says, “if ever there were a more appropriate course for such firm action, this ergonomics rule is it.
“Without so much as a guarantee that a single workplace injury will be prevented, this rule would unnecessarily drain U.S. businesses of billions of dollars that could be better used for job growth.”
He adds, “while the trucking industry is committed to using proven methods to advance workplace safety, there is no medical consensus today on how to prevent, treat or even properly diagnose repetitive stress injuries. Until that consensus exists, it is premature to implement this rule.”
The association calculates that the OSHA rules would have cost the U.S. trucking industry along $6.5 billion a year to implement. It says its research shows “repetitive stress injuries have been in decline for nearly a decade,” due in part to “significant progress on its own.”