WASHINGTON (AP) _ Despite opposition from industry groups and congressional Republicans, the Clinton administration is expected to issue a final rule next week that requires employers to create programs to protect workers from repetitive motion injuries, government officials and business representatives say.
The sweeping new standard, which has been in the making by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for nearly a decade, covers about 6 million workplaces and more than 100 million workers, The Washington Post said.
The regulation would take effect shortly before Jan. 20, when the new president is inaugurated, The New York Times reported.
Virtually all the nation's employers would have to adapt the workplace to the science of ergonomics, requiring employers to better fit jobs to the physical limitations of their workers. OSHA officials hope to cut in half over the next decade the 600,000 repetitive stress injuries that result in lost work time each year.
The hospital, restaurant, grocery, and trucking and courier industries will need to make the most changes in the workplace, OSHA predicted. The rule also targets the millions of workers who sit in front a computer screen all day, typing and using a mouse.
``We have recognized that musculoskeletal disorders are a significant part of the injuries and illness in America,'' Charles Jeffress, the assistant secretary of Labor who heads OSHA, told the Post. ``We have needed a better tool to address this. These injuries have declined, but they still remain a third of all workplace injuries.''
Under the new rule, employers will have to inform their workers about these kinds of workplace ailments and how they can report them, beginning next October. Employees who have a work-related injury would have to receive medical attention, and time off with pay. And the employer would have to work at eliminating or lessening the hazard that caused the problem.
The GOP majority in Congress has been determined to put off the new rule until next year in hopes there would be a Republican president more sympathetic to industry's strong opposition to the rules.
``The important threshold in terms of this argument will be crossed next week when they are published,'' Scott Lilly, minority staff director of the House Appropriations Committee, told the Times.
Both the House and the Senate this summer voted mainly along party lines to bar OSHA from issuing the standards during the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. The White House said that delay was unacceptable, and the resulting impasse scuttled a year-end budget accord.
Last November, after a decade of studies that began during the Bush administration, OSHA issued proposed standards to protect workers from back injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome and other work-related disorders.
OSHA contends that every year 1.8 million workers suffer from ergonomic injuries and 600,000 workers lose a day or more of work. It says businesses pay out $15 billion to $20 billion each year in compensation related to these disorders, one-third of all worker compensation costs.
OSHA says the rules would cost businesses some $4.5 billion to implement but would reap $9 billion a year in savings from medical expenses and workers' compensation.
Business groups, however, cite a study by the Economic Policy Foundation, a think tank, that estimated costs of more than $90 billion a year over 10 years.