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In a case with broad implications, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that would define "disability" as it relates to the American Disabilities Act (ADA). The case raises the question: When does an injury become a disability that requires accommodations?
In Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky v. Williams, Ella Williams developed carpal tunnel syndrome from using vibrating pneumatic tools. She transferred to a quality-control job that involved visual inspection. When that job was changed to include sponging and wiping the cars, activities that caused her pain, she sued.
Toyota maintains that her impairment didn’t meet the definition of disability in the ADA, which describes "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities . . . functions such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working."
The Washington state senate voted to delay a new ergonomics rule until 2005. The rule, adopted in May 2000 by the state Department of Labor and Industries, phases in ergonomics requirements. Hospitals fall in the second tier of hazardous industries, which means they must begin identifying hazards and educating employees by July 2003, and must be in full compliance by July 2004. (See Hospital Employee Health, August 2000.)
The Washington rule focuses on prevention by requiring employers to identify and fix potential hazards. In contrast, the OSHA rule that was recently rescinded by Congress was triggered by musculoskeletal injuries. Washington business organizations have argued that the state rule is too expensive, too vague, and not medically based.
Democratic Gov. Gary Locke has expressed opposition to the delay in enforcement and could veto the bill if it passes the state House.