CUNA Regulatory Comment Call


June 19, 2001

OSHA’S Initiative To Create A New Ergonomics Framework

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

In March, President Bush signed a Joint Resolution of Congress repealing the final ergonomics rule which was promulgated during the Clinton Administration. The Department of Labor is now designing a new comprehensive plan to address ergonomics hazards in the workplace. As part of this effort, the Department is requesting public input on possible approaches to take in a new ergonomics regulation. In several public forums, the Department will focus on three questions basic to the ergonomics issue, which are listed in the Questions section below. The forums will be held in Washington, D.C. on July 16 and 17, in Chicago on July 20, and in California on July 24. CUNA plans to testify during the forum in Washington, D.C. The Secretary of Labor intends to identify a course of action in September.

Comments on the questions listed below are due to OSHA by August 3, 2001. Please submit your comments to CUNA by July 23, 2001. Please feel free to fax your responses to CUNA at 202-371-8240; e-mail them to Associate General Counsel Mary Dunn at mdunn@cuna.com or to Senior Regulatory Counsel Catherine Orr at corr@cuna.com; or mail them to Mary or Catherine c/o CUNA's Regulatory Advocacy Department, 805 15th Street, NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20005. If you would like to submit your comments (three copies) directly to OSHA, the address is OSHA Docket Office, Docket No. S-777A, U.S. Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Avenue, N.W., Room N-2625, Washington, D.C. 20210. To submit comments to OSHA electronically, send e-mail to OSHA’s Homepage at www.osha.gov. If your written comments are 10 pages or fewer, you may fax them to the OSHA Docket Office at (202) 693-1648. If you submit comments directly to OSHA, please also forward a copy of your comments to CUNA. You may contact CUNA if you would like a copy of the OSHA notice or you may access it on OSHA's Web site at the following address: http://www.osha.gov/media/oshnews/june01/national-20010607.html

BACKGROUND

The controversial final ergonomics rule, which was set to be enforced beginning October 14 this year, was aimed at forcing employers to take action to prevent repetitive-stress injuries on the job and to compensate workers who are disabled by such injuries. On March 6 & 7, both Houses of Congress voted to strike down the rule through a Joint Resolution of Disapproval – the legislative equivalent of the presidential line-item veto. President George W. Bush signed the legislation overturning the ergonomics regulation on March 20. On May 3, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed as moot the court case filed by numerous business organizations and labor unions to prevent the rule from becoming effective.

CUNA, along with numerous labor and industry groups, was closely involved in legislative and regulatory lobbying efforts to overturn the regulation. The rule contained extremely extensive and cumbersome provisions that could potentially negatively impact credit unions. The rule would have required employers to provide workers with information about possible musculoskeletal disorders and risk factors, review complaints, redesign workplaces if they were found to cause problems, ensure injured employees access to medical care, and provide compensation for disabilities. In some cases, employers would have to pay disabled workers more, and for longer periods of time, than would be the case under state workers' compensation laws. In letters sent by CUNA to the Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao as well as members of the House and Senate prior to the votes, CUNA President Dan Mica and CUNA General Counsel Eric Richard emphasized that while CUNA appreciates that the issue of repetitive workplace issues should be addressed, compliance for employers, especially small employers such as most credit unions, would be extremely burdensome. According to estimates by the Employment Policy Foundation, a Washington-D.C.-based think tank, compliance with the regulation would have cost credit unions nearly $350 for each employee.

Labor Secretary Elaine Chao pledged to review the issue and take steps “which may include new rulemaking” to protect workers. Under Congressional Review Act, a rule killed by Congress “may not be reissued in substantially the same form” and a future rule that is “substantially” similar cannot go forward unless Congress specifically authorizes such action. In its letter to the Secretary of Labor, CUNA also encouraged the Department to “ establish a new task force, comprised of labor and business groups, to develop a rational approach that is more precisely drawn to ensure workers have legal remedies to which they are entitled and businesses are not unreasonably and unnecessarily subjected to additional regulatory burdens.”

As part of its effort to design a new comprehensive plan to address ergonomics hazards in the workplace, the Department will hold several public forums around the country to obtain input on possible approaches to take in a new regulation. In testimony before Congress, the Secretary of Labor has set forth the following set of principles that the Department will use as a starting point for developing a new ergonomics framework:

QUESTIONS CONCERNING THE NEW INITIATIVE

The Department considers the forums to be “the beginning of its initiative to create a new and comprehensive approach to ergonomics that is appropriate to the 21st Century workforce.” As part of this initiative, the Department would like to receive comments on the following three fundamental questions:

  1. What is an ergonomics injury?
    The DOL is interested in establishing an accepted definition that OSHA, employers, and their employees can understand and apply.









  2. How can OSHA, employers, and employees determine whether an ergonomics injury was caused by work-related activities or non-related work activities; and, if the ergonomics injury was caused by a combination of the two, what is the appropriate response?









  3. What are the most useful and cost-effective types of government involvement to address workplace ergonomics injuries rulemaking, guidelines, “best practices”, publications/conferences, technical assistance, consultations, partnerships or combinations of such approaches?
    The agency particularly invites comment on the advantages and disadvantages of each approach or combination of approaches.









Eric Richard • General Counsel • (202) 508-6742 • erichard@cuna.com
Mary Mitchell Dunn • SVP & Associate General Counsel • (202) 508-6736 • mdunn@cuna.com
Jeffrey Bloch • Assistant General Counsel • (202) 508-6732 • jbloch@cuna.com
Catherine Orr • Senior Regulatory Counsel • (202) 508-6743 • corr@cuna.com