- The Washington Times - Friday, March 9, 2001

Dismantling the edifice of Clintonism will take some time, but this week's vote by the House and Senate to nix a Clinton administration edict relating to workplace "ergonomics" rules is a fine beginning.

Like so many liberal Democratic initiatives, the workplace rules proposed by the Clinton administration through the Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA) had a superficial, emotionally appealing ring to them. Who could possibly be against "workplace health" or "worker safety" … freighted terms that, like "clean air" and "civil rights" are easy to demagogue and hard to argue against without seeming callous or indifferent to legitimate concerns.

But the actual consequences for the economy and thus for the very workers the rules were ostensibly intended to protect would have been disastrous on multiple levels. Congress is therefore to be applauded for taking a reasoned stand against these ill-considered edicts.

As written, the ergonomics rules would have affected 102 million workers, with compliance costs estimated in the multiple billions of dollars annually. To cite a few examples: The American Trucking Association representing the industry that gets almost all goods available for sale in this country from point "a" to point "b" said it would cost just one trucking firm, Con-Way Transportation Services, $54 million to comply with the new rules in the first year alone. The trade group, Food Distributors International, which represents grocery store wholesalers and restaurants, placed the compliance costs at $52 million annually for just one of its larger members. Total annual compliance costs could have been as high as $100 billion, according to business estimates. Even the Clinton OSHA department conceded the total figure to be in the billions.

But money is not the only consideration. The proposed rules would have required employers to convey to workers information relating to possible work-caused injuries and risk factors, review complaints stemming from such injuries and risk factors and redesign workplaces and work itself to mitigate these injuries and risks. This sounds reasonable until one attempts to define the particulars. How, exactly, does seating position (for example) relate to back strain? How does one even demonstrate that an employee's back pain (real or not) is caused by his chair rather than by his poor posture and pendulous beer belly? How much weight is "unreasonable" for an employee to lift without risking his or her health? Who decides?

Then there are the various "syndromes" of modern life such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, allegedly caused by too much time in front of a keyboard or typewriter. The problem is that medical science has not yet figured out exactly how this syndrome develops or whether it is, in fact, the result of repetitive motion, such as daily use of a computer keyboard or mouse.

Had Congress lost its nerve, everyone from UPS delivery drivers, who would have been limited to handling packages weighing no more than 15 pounds each by themselves to office workers, who would have faced all sorts of ukase and red tape relating to the layout of their work area, how long they might "safely" work on their computers would have felt the deadening weight of these productivity-stifling, wet-nurse regulations.


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