Regulations Reviewed in Workplace Injuries

Tuesday, March 6th 2001, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) - Labor Secretary Elaine Chao said Tuesday she will pursue a new ``comprehensive approach'' to dealing with workplace injuries caused by repetitive motion if Congress, supported by President Bush, repeals Clinton administration rules this week.

Republican senators, employing a provision never before used to kill regulations issued by federal agencies, brought the ergonomics regulations to the floor Tuesday for limited debate, with a vote possible later in the day or Wednesday.

The new ergonomics rules, imposed four days before President Bush took office, are ``the largest regulatory mandate ever imposed on business, and it's the right time to use the Congressional Review Act,'' said Sen. Tim Hutchinson, R-Ark.

The Republicans aim to kill the regulations and prevent similar standards from being issued. Chao, in a letter to Sen. James Jeffords, R-Vt., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said she would consider new regulations ``that will provide employers with achievable measures that protect their employees before injuries occur.''

A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Bush determined that the rules amount to excessive regulation.

Organized labor is fighting the move to kill the regulations, which could force companies to alter work stations, redesign facilities or change tools and equipment once employees are found to suffer work-related injuries.

``Instead of helping hard-working Americans, this resolution is a big thank-you to big business for all their support'' of Republicans, said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. ``It's politics at its worst. And it leaves average American workers defenseless against today's workplace injuries.''

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has estimated the rules would cost businesses about $4.5 billion in compliance costs but would result in $9 billion in benefits by reducing injuries. Officials say 1.8 million workers in the United States have injuries related to ergonomics, with 600,000 missing work each year as a result.

Business groups put the cost of compliance much higher, at more than $90 billion a year. They also oppose a measure that would grant full pay and benefits for 90 days to workers with repetitive-motion injuries who get put on temporary work restrictions. Workers temporarily removed from their jobs would receive 90 percent of pay and 100 percent of benefits.

Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., who is leading the effort to kill the new regulations, said the payment requirements effectively wipe out existing states' worker compensation laws and are too ``expensive and intrusive.''

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