April 2001 Bulletin

Congress votes to kill new OSHA ergonomics rules

It took 10 years for the Labor department to get workplace ergonomic regulations into law and two days for Congress to scuttle the rules and send their action to the White House which has signaled that the President will concur.

Workplace rules have been sent to Congress many times in the last decade and were always stymied by Republican actions. But the rules, designed to reduce repetitive motion injuries on the job, slipped through Congress last year and President Clinton endorsed them despite business claims that they were unworkable and could cost $100 billion to implement.

To kill the rules, Congress employed a little-used procedure, the Congressional Review Act of 1996, which allowed only limited debate and opened the way for votes without hearings, committee action, opportunities for amendments or delaying tactics.

On March 6, the Senate voted 56 to 44 to kill the rules. On March 7, the House did the same, voting 223 to 206.

In a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), the AAOS said although orthopaedic surgeons are concerned about workplace injuries and strongly support efforts to prevent musculoskeletal injuries, "the administrative decision to move forward with this overly broad rule lacks firm scientific support."

The AAOS said that under the rule, "the diagnosis of many common musculoskeletal disorders may be based on nonspecific and subjective ‘feelings’ and observations. The rule shows a lack of objectivity in defining musculoskeletal symptoms and disorders and confuses aches and pains with disorders."

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