OSHA clearly overstepped boundaries

Published 3:55 pm Wednesday, March 21, 2001

U.S. Representative
The argument last week was typical in one sense.
Labor unions and their allies in Congress protested this was a slap in the face of workers around the country.
But the debate, interestingly enough, wasn't about overturning some court ruling or even an action taken by a previous Congress.  
Instead, it was as the Mobile Register editorialized last Thursday, Congress taking "a major step toward re-establishing its authority over bureaucratic excess."
In fact, what the House and Senate did last week was tell the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, that it had overstepped its authority when it issued a far-reaching ruling on the science of "ergonomics."
Ergonomics, for those of you who don't use the term in your daily vocabulary, is a fancy way of mandating new burdensome workplace regulations involving repetitive stress injuries.
Take, for instance, the grocery store employee who bags a turkey that weighs more than 15 pounds.  Or perhaps the hospital and nursing home employees who currently help lift patients from their beds.
Shouldn't do it, bad idea, according to OSHA.
Even the computer technician who spends more than four hours per day at his or her keyboard is at risk, according to our friends at OSHA. 
Heaven forbid an employee who works more than four hours a day.  What is the world coming to?
OSHA issued this far-reaching regulation on January 16, near the end of the Clinton administration. The former president signaled his approval with a hearty thumbs-up.  Congress never even had a chance to vote on it.
But while it is true that there were probably some good intentions behind this ruling, as is so often the case when the federal bureaucrats get hold of an idea, the good is quickly overshadowed by the bad.
There is no question but that stress on certain repetitive motions at work can produce severe pain.  Carpal tunnel syndrome, for instance, is an arm/wrist/hand injury that can be directly linked to overuse of a computer keyboard (as well as a tennis racket). It is now an established workplace hazard.
But OSHA took what was possibly a good idea and became reckless with it.  
Unfortunately, instead of actually helping ensure that American workers continue to have the best conditions in the world, the Clinton administration's last-minute ergonomics mandate would have resulted in layoffs and higher prices for goods and services, this at a time when the economy is slowing down almost daily.
True to form, OSHA also underestimated the cost of compliance with this new rule.  A recently released study by the University of Iowa said that in the newspaper industry alone, the average cost to implement ergonomic improvements in a job would be $376 per person, more than double OSHA's estimate of $150 per person.
Nationally, OSHA had estimated the compliance cost to American businesses would be about $4.5 billion per year.  
But liberal and conservative think tanks alike concede that would probably be just a drop in the bucket, with one group projecting an estimated $125 billion price tag to implement.
And who do you think would pay these higher costs?
The American consumer, naturally.
In today's economy, it is imperative that business provides a healthy, productive workplace for their employees.  To do anything less not only carries severe consequences, but it also is a quick way to insure that your best employees will find work elsewhere.
For sure, OSHA has a legitimate place by helping to insure a safe, healthy workplace for all Americans.  But OSHA clearly overstepped its boundaries when it assumed the role of legislators.
Until next week, take care and God Bless.

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