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Guidelines, not regs for ergonomics

The Bush administration has opted for a combination of industry-specific guidelines, tough enforcement against bad actors, compliance assistance, and research to reduce ergonomic injuries in the workplace.

Labor Secretary Elaine Chao unveiled OSHA’s program in early April, saying it is an improvement over the Clinton administration’s ergonomic rule that relied heavily on regulations and was rolled back by Congress shortly after Bush took office. OSHA said it would release guidelines for selected industries this year and would encourage other businesses and industries to develop immediately additional guidelines of their own. OSHA quickly identified 10 regional ergonomic coordinators to assist local OSHA staff with ergonomic issues. Chao announced that the first set of voluntary guidelines would be developed for nursing homes.

Also in April, the Bureau of Labor Statistics presented its statistics for lost-worktime injuries and illnesses for 2000, which showed a steady decline in workplace injuries requiring time off. Musculoskeletal disorders accounted for more than one out of three injuries. More than 40% of those cases were sprains or strains, mostly involving the back.

The food industry and most businesses praised the voluntary approach, but the AFL-CIO called it “a sham.”

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