Senate strikes down OSHA ergonomic rules

BOSTON -- The U.S. Senate late Tuesday voted down ergonomic workplace rules imposed by former President Clinton during his final weeks in office.

Senators voted 56 to 44 to rescind the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules that would have required businesses to reconfigure offices and compensate employees for repetitive-motion injuries. The ergonomic standards were adopted in November 1999 and would have gone into effect in October.

The issue now heads to the House of Representatives where Republicans are banding together to support the Senate's ruling to quash the standards.

Debate on the issue has been largely split along party lines. According to a statement from Senator Mike Enzi, a Republican from Wyoming, the standards do not benefit workers as supporters claim, but instead add unbearable, unworkable paperwork and financial burdens on employers and customers. It also could cost people jobs and wreck state workers' compensation systems, he said. Supporters of the OSHA rules have claimed that overturning the rules will end all rule-making in the area of ergonomics. But that claim is absolutely false, Enzi said.

Proponents such as Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Democrat from New York, believe workers gain from the ergonomic standards. Every year, there are efforts to weaken and undermine OSHA and the rescinding of the ergonomic-workplace rules is another example, Clinton said in a statement. The standard helps more than 600,000 workers who suffer workplace injuries each year from repetitive motion and exertion, she said.

Repealing the standard would have a devastating effect on all workers and especially women, Clinton said. Women make up 46 percent of the workforce, but account for 64 percent of the repetitive-motion injuries, she said.

Business lobbies, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, largely opposed the regulations, calling them costly. Organized labor has backed the initiative for these rules that first emerged about 10 years ago as they say it would provide greater protection to workers.

In order to kill the ergonomic standards, Senators used the Congressional Review Act, which was passed in 1996 and had never been used before. It gives lawmakers the right to quickly overturn federal regulations they want to do away with.

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