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Ergoban Defeated!

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!, October 1998)

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, it’s 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. Here’s what the panel concluded (and what the UE NEWS reported in October 1998):

• Musculoskeletal disorders are a serious national problem.

• The scientific literature clearly demonstrates that musculoskeletal disorders in workers are caused by exposure to ergonomic hazards at work.

• For 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 don’t need another study to get started in protecting workers on the job from these hazards.


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 injuries!

This toll of worker injuries and illnesses needs to stop. But let’s 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!

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