A Senate committee has approved a new ergonomics bill that rubber manufacturers and tire dealers feel is a back-door attempt to reintroduce the ``one-size-fits-all'' approach taken by the Clinton administration.
Introduced April 17 by Sen. John B. Breaux, D-La., the bill directs the Labor Department to issue mandatory rules on workplace repetitive stress injuries within two years of passage.
Under the bill's provisions, the rule must define the circumstances by which employers must address repetitive stress injuries and the standards by which they are measured. The bill orders the agency to consider existing ergonomics standards in other countries and individual states in writing the rule, but forbids it from expanding the application of state workers' compensation laws.
So far Sen. Breaux has attracted 35 co-sponsors to the bill, including former First Lady Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee passed the bill on a straight, 11-10 party-line vote, with an amendment requiring the Labor Department to provide compliance assistance to both employers and employees in the form of training grant programs and demonstration projects.
Despite the amendment, businesses in general are unhappy with the new bill, seeing it as a return to the Clinton ergonomics rule, which they decried as onerous. Congress overturned that rule in March 2001, invoking the little-used Congressional Review Act.
``We have some concerns about the science behind it,'' a Rubber Manufacturers Association spokesman said about the new bill. ``This is a `one-size-fits-all' approach that may not accomplish the goal of improved safety for workers.''
The Tire Industry Association is totally opposed to the Breaux ergonomics bill, said Becky MacDicken, TIA director of government affairs.
``I don't believe this bill has a prayer for passage and that any movement on it is purely a part of election-year politics,'' Ms. MacDicken said.
In April the Bush administration made its own proposal for an ergonomics standard, including task- and industry-specific guidelines on repetitive strain injuries, special ergonomics inspection teams, specialized training programs and other compliance assistance, and targeting of industries with histories of serious ergonomics problems.
Business interests were encouraged by the plan, but congressional Democrats and labor unions said it fell far short of the protection promised by a mandatory standard.
As yet the new ergonomics bill lacks a consideration date on the Senate floor. Sen. Michael Enzi, R-Wyo., one of the most consistent champions of a pro-business ergonomics bill, has promised a filibuster to prevent the bill from reaching a vote in the full Senate.