- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2001

The House followed the Senate yesterday in voting against new job-safety rules intended to protect as many as 102 million workers from repetitive-motion injuries.
Only President Bush's signature on the bill is needed to kill the measures by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. They went into effect Jan. 16, after 10 years of development, by executive order of President Clinton, four days before he left office.
The House voted 223-206 to repeal the OSHA rules less than 24 hours after the Senate took similar action. President Bush is expected to sign the legislation, despite the opposition of labor unions.
Republicans and the Bush administration have criticized the OSHA rules as too costly and burdensome on business. OSHA estimates the cost of complying with the rules to be $4.5 billion, but business groups say the tab would run between $20 billion and $120 billion.
"This administration is committed to protecting the health and safety of workers," the White House said in a statement. "That's why the Department of Labor will pursue a comprehensive approach to addressing this issue. There is a real concern about the overly burdensome current rules because of the negative impact they would have on jobs and economic growth."
Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, called the rules "an unworkable, excessive regulation that causes more problems than it solves."
Rep. Ric Keller, Florida Republican, said workers' compensation insurance premiums already create an adequate incentive for employers to make workplaces safe without adding the cost of more OSHA regulations.
Democrats argued that repeal of the OSHA rules would leave workers without adequate protection from injury. They also said employers would recover the cost of compliance through lower medical bills for workers.
"Each year, more than 650,000 American workers suffer from repetitive-motion disorders," said Rep. Nita M. Lowey, New York Democrat. "It is time to stop these injuries."
The vote was the first major victory for Republicans and the first opportunity for Mr. Bush to sign significant legislation.
It also was the first time Congress has overturned an executive order under the 1996 Congressional Review Act. The act gives Congress the right to repeal federal agency regulations by a simple majority vote and forbids the agencies from instituting similar rules without Congress' permission.
The act was enacted with little fanfare and little objection from the Clinton administration five years ago as a way to encourage federal agencies to be cautious in their rule making.
"With today's vote, we send the message to future presidents that if you impose a regulation with an executive order that would hurt America, Congress will repeal it," said Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Maryland Republican who voted to repeal the OSHA regulations.
The vote leaves supporters of the OSHA ergonomic rules with no legal recourse.
"There's nothing you can go to court on," said Peg Seminario, the AFL-CIO's safety and health director. "This is an act of Congress. Period. End of story."
The AFL-CIO, a national organization of 66 major labor unions, consulted with the workplace agency in developing about 600 pages that explain the job-safety rules. In the days before the vote, the labor group mounted a lobbying effort that included bringing workers with crippling injuries to Washington to meet with members of Congress.
Miss Seminario said she doubted Congress would revive similar repetitive-motion rules anytime soon.
"Actions speak louder than words, and their actions for the last 10 years say they oppose any government action that would protect workers from these crippling injuries," she said. "We're very disappointed. This isn't a union issue. This is a worker issue."
Business groups and some Republicans, however, warned the compliance costs could drive some of them out of business and force others to export jobs overseas where labor expenses are cheaper.
"Our workers may face more of a danger from OSHA's regulations than they would from repetitive motions," said Rep. Charlie Norwood, Georgia Republican.
The regulations were aimed at preventing carpal-tunnel syndrome, tendinitis and other health problems associated with repetitive motion, awkward postures, contact stress and other on-the-job conditions. The rules did not cover trips, falls or other on-the-job accidents.
The measures would require employers to investigate the cause of workers' job injuries and take corrective action if job hazards are found. Another rule would require employers to pay workers with musculoskeletal injuries from repetitive stress 90 percent of their salary for the first 90 days they are off work recuperating. Still other rules specify how many times workers can repeat the same motion or how much weight they can lift in a day.
After the Senate vote Tuesday night, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce issued a statement supporting repeal of what it called OSHA's "ill-conceived, expensive and unscientific" ergonomics rules. Ergonomics refers to the science of fitting a job to a worker.
"If it is not stopped, the ergonomics rule will create a cottage industry for lawyers and consultants seeking millions in fees and forcing businesses to postpone productive investments that benefit workers," said Randel Johnson, the chamber's vice president for labor policy. The chamber represents 3 million businesses and organizations.

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