Workplace ergonomics program is "voluntary"
By Elizabeth Schulte | April 26, 2001 | Page 2
THE BUSH administration gave Corporate America another gift at workers' expense when it released its "plan" to reduce workplace injuries caused by repetitive stress. Instead of requiring that businesses comply with rules that would reduce repetitive stress injuries on the job, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao proposed a "voluntary" program.
Advocates of workplace ergonomics standards have been waiting for regulations for 10 years, when Bush Sr. was forced to order a study of workplace safety. After dragging his feet for eight years, Bill Clinton approved a set of ergonomics rules that was supposed to be implemented last March. Then George W. Bush took over the White House and Congress repealed them.
Congressional Republicans complained that the regulations would bankrupt small businesses. But their opposition was bought and paid for by big corporations. Like United Parcel Service, one of the most dangerous places to work in the country. UPS contributed almost $3 million to candidates and party committees in the last election cycle.
The bosses got what they paid for. The National Federation of Independent Business called Chao's plan "a helping hand." The Bush administration hasn't even come up with guidelines for companies to "volunteer" to follow.
John Henshaw, the assistant secretary of labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), said that OSHA plans to train an ergonomics task force to assess workplaces and develop strategies for preventing injuries. But where this task force will come from is a mystery, considering that Bush is planning to cut OSHA's training and enforcement budget by $14 million.
In other words, workers are on their own.
Every day, 5,000 workers in the U.S. suffer work-related musculoskeletal injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and back injuries, that could have been prevented. Melody Purvis of Indianapolis, who suffered repetitive stress injuries working in a warehouse where she was required to lift clothing parcels over her head, testified before lawmakers.
She said that her former employer flatly refused to implement changes that she and her coworkers recommended to reduce the number of injuries. "It's too late to save my legs and my arms, but it's not too late to save my coworkers," Purvis said.
Some congressional Democrats are voicing outrage at this latest Republican attack on workers. But the Clinton administration should share the blame--for stalling the ergonomic rules until the last minute.
Unions will have to wage their own fight to win safe conditions.