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One of the most steadfast foes of the federal ergonomics rule vows to fight until the rule is overturned. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) says he will work closely with a group of his colleagues to strike the last-minute Clinton administration rule that Enzi says could hurt workers and consumers alike by paralyzing businesses across the country and causing dramatic price hikes for goods and services.
Enzi, who chairs the Senate subcommittee with oversight authority over the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, says he believes OSHA’s massive ergonomics rule designed to prevent repetitive motion injuries will do little to help workers. At the same time, the rule will increase the regulatory burden on small businesses to an unbearable level, he contends. "If ever there was an instance that called for Congress to step in and send an administrative agency rule back to the drawing board, this is it," Enzi says.
"Procedurally, the Clinton OSHA paid its own witnesses to advocate the political position of the administration, and the agency forced the rule through without properly considering public comments so a new administration wouldn’t have time to review its action. Substantively, OSHA did its best to ignore the negative consequences this onerous rule would have on workers, states, businesses, and entire industries."
OSHA published its rule before it considered the complexities of what causes repetitive motion injuries and how they relate to the workplace as conveyed in a recent National Academy of Sciences study, according to Enzi. He says if OSHA had waited for the study to come out before forcing the rule through, the agency might have been able to craft a rule that would better solve the problem.
OSHA also did not address the concerns regarding the rule’s interference with state workers’ compensation programs, he says. Nor did it take into account the forced additional costs on businesses. It also failed to note the increased costs this rule will force on businesses and those that are price-controlled by the government, Enzi says.
Enzi says he was particularly concerned about the health care industry. He compared the situation to the California power crisis where government forced businesses to sell their products below actual cost, and now the businesses are going bankrupt. "I don’t want this ergo rule to cost people their jobs, to force small businesses, especially health care providers, out of business," he says. "This rule would do that without safety results."
The ergonomic regulations are estimated to cover more than 100 million workers across the country, including businesses with only one worker who experiences an ergonomics injury. This would require extra staff to administer a comprehensive ergonomics program, Enzi says. The ergonomics standard covers one of the broadest groups of employers ever covered by a single OSHA rule, he notes.
Hearings on a rule that covered a limited group of businesses were held, but after the hearings, a greatly expanded and changed rule that covered a larger group of businesses was put through, Enzi says.
"This rule would force convenience stores to implement the same standards as meat packing plants," he says. "Ergonomic problems in the workplace must be solved, but as written, this rule doesn’t solve the problem. The standards set forth in this one-size-fits-all rule do not make sense. The rule piles on paperwork rather than encouraging simple safety measures that both large and small businesses can understand and comply with."
The Employment Policy Foundation estimated the cost of compliance with the rule for businesses across the nation to be about $125 billion each year. The rule is set to go into affect October 2001, but Enzi says he hopes Congress can help the workplace avoid the red tape tangles through use of the Congressional Review Act (CRA). The CRA is a little-used law allowing Congress to overturn an agency rule.
Key is the fact that the CRA is insulated in the Senate from a filibuster and debate is limited to a total of 10 hours, thus a majority of the Senate vote, rather than a filibuster-proof 60 votes, is all that’s needed to pass a CRA resolution. There are no special procedures in the House for considering a CRA resolution.
To date, no rule has ever been successfully overturned through use of the CRA, but Enzi contends this is a time in history when many things are being done that have never been done before.
"There are a number of reasons this procedure is rarely tried and never successfully; the predominant reason being that Congress is usually in a position of overturning a rule that was put in place by a president who wanted the rule there in the first place," he says. "It requires 67 votes in the Senate to overturn a presidential veto. In this case though, I believe President Bush would gladly let Congress rid the country of the current rule, and he would welcome time to work on an ergonomics rule that is well thought out."
Enzi says passing a resolution to overturn the ergonomics rule will not be easy, but he hopes his colleagues will see the flaws in the current rule.
"Republicans and Democrats saw the flaws before the rule was published," he says.
"If a new rule is drafted, it should incorporate data from the National Academy of Sciences study. Rulemakers should consider the comments from labor and businesses across the country and take into account such a rule’s affect on state programs and specific industries such as health care," Enzi adds.