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More light, please

Rushed in by one administration and out by another, politics surrounding the OSHA ergonomic rules once again obscures the real issue.

Unprecedented. That’s the word floating around the Hill for the speed and means used to undo 10 years of ergonomics research and a year’s worth of hearings. Last Tuesday and Wednesday, Congress killed the new OSHA workplace ergonomics standards, which would have taken effect this fall, in just a couple hours’ time. And they fired the hollow-tip bullet, the Congressional Review Act, especially for the occasion–a measure that allows no filibustering, amendments, or much debate, and that may be passed by majority vote. Once Bush signs it, Republicans and business lobbyists can rest assured that no new standards will rise for at least the next four years.

Harrowing. That’s the word for descriptions of injuries catalogued at the AFL-CIO site for workers of all descriptions. Many are so severe that those affected can no longer do things such as feed themselves. Wired’s Web site carried a story about a programmer whose long hours quickly debilitated her neck, shoulders and arms. How? Probably by doing what many of us do every day: sitting too long at a workstation that doesn’t quite fit us. The discomfort starts gradually, until one day it hurts so much we can’t work anymore, or do anything else.

Appalling. That’s the word that springs to mind for how little attention this issue has gained so far, with virtually nobody but the AFL-CIO attempting any kind of comprehensive coverage of what did and did not constitute the OSHA rules. Those who attacked the OSHA standard called it “overreaching” and said that its monetary provisions for injured workers superseded state workers’ compensations laws, despite the fact that states filed briefs stating otherwise. Where is the analysis of the vast gulf between OSHA’s projected cost figures for implementing the standard–$4.5 billion–versus the Republicans’ projected $100 billion? Where is the discussion of how an ergonomic injury differs from other workplace injuries? On the whole, the press’s treatment of this issue has been, forgive the pun, decidedly hands-off. Maybe that’s not such a surprising thing, since repetitive-stress injuries typically render those most interested unable to type.

For more on this issue, see:

This Verizon typist’s concerns were ignored for many years:

Wired story:

Testimony of injured workers who worked in a variety of industries:

Facts and myths surrounding the OSHA ergonomics rules:

The National Association of Manufacturers, which lobbied against OSHA:

A good Nando News story on the repealing of the OHSA rules:

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