WASHINGTON (April 26, 2001) — Labor Secretary Elaine Chao faced hostile questioning from senators who insisted she explain why she didn't have a deadline or timetable for setting a new workplace standard for ergonomics.
"I want to know what you're going to do and when you're going to do it," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education.
Ms. Chao replied that the issues surrounding ergonomics are too complex to allow for deadlines in issuing a new rule. "The diversity of opinion is truly vast," said Ms. Chao, who argued that trying to write a rule without a consensus would end in failure.
But Sen. Specter was unconvinced. "If you had a consensus, you wouldn't need a Department of Labor or a Senate subcommittee," he said.
Both he and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, were applauded by labor union members in the hearing audience for their pro-ergonomics stances. These same people hissed at Ms. Chao for her insistence that a deadline would damage the rulemaking process.
In her testimony, Ms. Chao said she sought an ergonomics standard based on prevention, sound science and cooperation between government and business. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) should avoid the "one size fits all" approach, she said, and should concentrate on "short, simple and common-sense instructions" to ensure compliance.
Pro-business groups issued statements during the hearing supporting the labor secretary's position.
"Let's not make the same mistake twice and rush to develop a new ergonomics regulation that's just as flawed and ineffective as the one Congress wisely repealed," said Mike Baroody, executive vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers.