UE News, October 1999
Labor won a major victory against OSHA-bashers in Congress
earlier this month. On Oct. 7, Senate Republicans withdrew their amendment to
ban OSHA from issuing either a proposed or final ergonomics standard for
another two years.
The ban was attached as an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2000
appropriations bill for the U.S. Departments of Labor and Health and Human
Services. The amendment (S.1070), sponsored or co-sponsored by 43 Senators,
all of them Republicans, was defeated by a spirited lobbying campaign by labor
and the threat of a Senate filibuster by a number of Democrats. Leading that
filibuster effort, according to Congressional sources, were Senators Paul
Wellstone (Minn.), Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Richard Durbin (Il.)
This amendment is the most recent in a long parade of
Congressional efforts to kill an OSHA ergonomics standard. These efforts began
in earnest during the Gingrich-Dole Congress, and have been spearheaded by
anti-labor Republican Senators and Representatives, most of them from
so-called "right-to-work" states.
First, in 1995, Congress attached an amendment to a budget
bill banning OSHA from issuing or even proposing an ergonomics standard
during Fiscal Year 1996. The ban was watered down during FY 1997, and then
killed last year in the U.S. Senate. (See Ergonomics Progress!,
This year in the Senate the charge was led by Sen. Kit Bond
(R., Mo.). He and his co-sponsors insisted that they are not against an
ergonomics standard to protect workers, its just that they want to wait
until the National Academy of Sciences finishes its current ergonomics study,
so that the standard will be based on "good science." This study
will be completed in January 2001, hence the proposed two-year wait.
But this is a phony argument. In fact, the National Academy of
Sciences completed a major study of ergonomics disorders just last year, on
Sept. 30, 1998. The Academy convened a panel of 65 leading scientific and
medical experts for the study. The results were clear-cut, and completely
undermine the position of Congressional supporters of delay. Heres what the
panel concluded (and what the UE NEWS reported in October 1998):
Musculoskeletal disorders are a serious national problem.
scientific literature clearly demonstrates that musculoskeletal disorders in
workers are caused by exposure to ergonomic hazards at work.
most people, their main exposure to ergonomic hazards is at their workplace.
Scientific research clearly demonstrates that effective workplace inventions
are available which can reduce ergonomic hazards.
There are plenty of straightforward conclusions. They
certainly make clear that repetitive strain injuries, back injuries and
other ergonomic disorders are caused largely at work, and that we know how
to limit or prevent them already. We dont need another study to get
started in protecting workers on the job from these hazards.
ENORMOUS HUMAN COST
The human cost to workers of this delay is enormous. In the
four years since 1995, when Congress first started its ban on a new standard, about
one million U.S. workers have suffered repetitive strain injuries on the
job. Adding in back injuries and other injuries caused by over-exertion, about
two and one-half million U.S. workers have been injured during this
period by ergonomics hazards.
The repetitive strain injuries alone represent about
two-thirds of all reported work-related illnesses. Those who go on to develop
carpal tunnel syndrome lose an average of about 25 days of work due to this
condition, the largest loss of time on average for any type of
workplace injury or illness. This 25 days of lost time is greater on average
than that suffered from workers who have their fingers amputated due to job
This toll of worker injuries and illnesses needs to stop. But
lets be clear. Congressional Republicans are not finished yet. Senate
Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi threatens to bring the ban bill back
again, either as a free-standing bill or an amendment to yet another
Congressional bill. It is important that UE members contact Members of
Congress and particularly Senators and tell them to oppose any effort to
re-introduce this measure.
This bill is now dead, and like Dracula, should remain dead!