Your Influence Counts ... Use It! The SPOTLIGHT by Liberty Lobby

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OSHA Wants More Power

  • The Clinton administration wants to let bureaucrats walk into your workplace and make us jump through hoops.
By James P. Tucker Jr.

A torrid fight between congress and the administration is now going on in Washington and it is your fight, too. At stake is whether or not some petty Washington bureaucrat entering your business -- large or small -- can order you to replace chairs, desks, tables, knock down walls or do anything that makes him feel powerful?

An army of medical experts has joined with industry to fight proposed federal "ergonomics" regulations they say should affect every workplace, however large or small.

The 600-page rules proposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are based on imperfect science and should be shelved until more research is conducted they argue.

"I am concerned with this proposal because of the far-reaching ramifications it would have on businesses, both large and small, and for the fact that it would provide very little or no benefit tot he employees," Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-Texas) told a House appropriations committee labor subcommittee.

"There's an old rule in medicine: diagnosis before cure," Bonilla said. "The medical profession respects that, but in the field of ergonomics, there are some government bureaucrats who insist on playing doctor without playing by the rules."

At OSHA, "those would-be physicians are pushing for an ergonomics regulation to 'cure' conditions like repetitive-stress injuries before the real doctors who treat these injuries have clearly identified what causes them, what cures them and what would prevent them," he added.


"The results will be disastrous for all of us,' Bonilla said. "We would wind up with a 'cure' that couldn't promise the prevention of a single injury, but almost certainly would cost billions of dollars and thousands of jobs."

The committee has "heard from the best physicians this country has to offer and they told Congress a great deal of additional scientific study must be done before government considers an ergonomics regulation which may have little or no benefit," the congressman added.

Stephen Katz, MD, director of the National Institute for Arthritis, Musculoskeletal and Skin Disorders agreed with Bonilla.

"We are not at that stage where we can promulgate certain suggestions in terms of what we should do to treat patients with repetitive motion disorders," Katz told the panel.

Dr. William McMaster, president of the California Orthopedic Association, added: "It is our conviction that there is no scientific basis at this time which would warrant broad regulations on repetitive-stress injuries."

Dr. Stanley Bigos said his studies show that many complaints of injury on the mob are unrelated to work. A professor of orthopedics at the University of Washington, Bigos led a government panel of experts who developed guidelines on lower back pain.

More than 3,000 volunteers were followed for more than five years in one of the studies, Bigos said.


Such "soft science" as used by OSHA to justify its proposed guidelines "allowed us to falsely attribute cancer to a traumatic episode as late as the 1960s," Bigos said.

"Repetitive-stress injuries are on the decrease," said Bryan Little, a labor specialist for the American Farm Bureau Association.

"The Bureau of Labor statistics 1995 records show that repetitive-stress injuries dropped seven percent from the previous year,' he added. "That's all the more significant when you consider that repetitive-stress injuries make up less than five percent of all workplace injuries and illnesses."

During a press conference following the hearing, the Washington-based Coalition for Ergonomic Research distributed a paper opposing the proposed regulations.

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and health was invited to appear before the committee to present the government's case but declined.