Letter on the Reissuance of the Ergonomics Rule (S 2184)
June 17, 2002
To Members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee:
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions will meet on Wednesday, June 19, 2002 to consider for mark-up S 2184, "a bill to provide for the reissuance of a rule relating to ergonomics." I am writing on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the world's largest business federation representing more than three million businesses and organizations of every size, sector and region, to urge you to oppose this bill.
As you know, the issues surrounding ergonomics have been complex and contentious. In the closing days of the Clinton Administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued, on November 14, 2000, a massive regulation covering over 100 million workers. For many valid reasons, which need not be revisited here, the Congress overturned the regulation on a bipartisan basis in March 2001 under the Congressional Review Act. Contrary to the claims of many, Congress did not prohibit OSHA from issuing any regulation, only one that was the same, or substantially the same as, the November 14th regulation. Subsequently, the Secretary of Labor held three forums across the country to explore ergonomics issues and, in April 2002, the Secretary issued a four-point program to address ergonomics concerns in the workplace, including the development of guidelines and a more stringent enforcement program.
Although the Secretary's efforts are continuing, S 2184 would, by fiat, require the Secretary to issue a final regulation governing ergonomics within two years of enactment, regardless of what the science might in fact justify. In this sense, it is ironic that S 2184 expressly adopts certain (questionable) conclusions from a January 2001 study by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), yet ignores other conclusions from that study pointing to the uncertainty of the science concerning the causes of musculoskeletal disorders and the need for further study. Moreover, the bill expressly reverses the March 2001 Congressional Review Act resolution by authorizing the issuance of a regulation that could be the same as, or substantially the same as, OSHA's November 14th regulation. The bill also appears to supersede important limitations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act that govern OSHA's rulemaking authority, such as the requirement that OSHA may only regulate "significant risk."
Other substantive concerns with various provisions with S 2184 exist. However, in the final analysis, it is our belief that Congress should not mandate an ergonomics regulation. Musculoskeletal injuries have been in steady decline over the last several years, and the Secretary's program, announced only a few months ago, should be allowed to proceed. Again, we strongly request your opposition to S 2184.
R. Bruce Josten
Executive Vice President, Government Affairs
U.S. Chamber of Commerce