Bush Administration Peddles Ergonomics Smokescreen
Over a year after Congress voted to repeal Clinton-era ergonomics standards at the urging of President Bush, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced on April 5 the release of its replacement "plan" that is nothing more than a smokescreen to mask the administration's unwillingness to seriously address injuries caused by repetitive motion -- the most pressing health and safety issue confronting the workplace today.
An estimated one million workers suffer from serious injuries related to ergonomic hazards each year, according to a January 2001 report from the National Academy of Sciences, and these injuries cost the economy $45 billion to $50 billion annually. Yet the administration appears not to take this seriously.
Assailed by AFL-CIO President John Sweeney as "a meaningless measure," the administration’s plan does not commit to enforceable standards, and only mentions Labor's intention to develop voluntary guidelines for industries that it has not yet even identified.
Oddly, the administration's plan also calls for the formation of an advisory committee to evaluate research on work-related musculoskeletal disorders caused by repetitive motion, even though this research is the responsibility of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). At the same time, the administration has proposed to cut $20 million from the NIOSH job and safety budget and $10 million from the OSHA enforcement and training budget.
Despite Labor Secretary Elaine Chao's stated commitment "to help workers by reducing ergonomic injuries in the shortest possible time frame," corporate interests -- which have fought tooth and nail against any ergonomics standard for more than a decade -- have won out with the Bush administration once again.