State Blazes New Trail with Ergonomics Rule
Washington’s new ergonomics rule could save the state’s employers and organizations from the long-term costs associated with worker injuries if they spend the time and money on preventing injuries.

The rule requires employers to protect their employees from work-related injuries such as back strain, tendinitis and carpel tunnel syndrome. It does not cover slips, trips and falls.

“This is good news for the workers of the state of Washington who suffer more than 50,000 ergonomic-related injuries every year,” says the Department of Labor and Industries Director Gary Moore. “These are costly injuries and this ruling will save employers money on the bottom line.”

But organizations in the state will have to re-evaluate the potential hazards facing their workers and implement training to prevent on-the-job injuries.

“We won’t need to improve our training as much as just need to do more training,” says one safety manager at a cancer research center in Seattle. “The rule requires us to evaluate every position at the organization.”

She says employers are required to identify “caution zone jobs” first, through a survey of all jobs at the cancer center. The rule then requires added ergonomics training for workers and supervisors in those positions.

The rule explains caution zone jobs as a job where an employee’s typical work activities include any of the following physical risk factors:

  • Awkward posture
  • High hand force
  • Highly repetitive motion
  • Repeated impact
  • Heavy, frequent or awkward lifting
  • Moderate to high hand-arm vibration.

On the federal level, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released voluntary guidelines for businesses and employers in April.

Washington’s ergonomics rule was adopted in May 2000. The rule took effect July 1 of this year. Enforcement will be phased in, beginning July 1, 2004.

The state’s Department of Labor and Industries is working with businesses and employee groups to conduct comprehensive education and outreach efforts.


Bill to Rewrite Bankruptcy Laws Nears Legislation
Congressional negotiators reached an agreement in July on a bill that would rewrite bankruptcy laws, making it much harder for businesses and individuals to escape their debts when they declare bankruptcy.

The bill, which passed both houses of Congress by overwhelming margins more than a year ago, is headed for final approval in the House and Senate, and the White House has suggested that President Bush will sign it. The House could vote on the measure as early as September, The New York Times reported.

The final agreement is a clear victory for the interests of corporate America over consumers at a time when large corporations are otherwise under siege. Credit card companies and other lenders have contended that they are unfairly penalized as a result of the growing rate of bankruptcy filings.

The bill approved by the conference committee would end the ability of people to use the bankruptcy system to wipe out credit card bills and other loans that are not secured by homes and other assets.

Some banks and credit card companies attest that many debtors abuse the bankruptcy laws to escape debts they should be able to pay. There were a record 1.45 million filings last year, up 19 percent from 2000.

Social Security Records Checks Could Cost Workers
The U.S. government is working to clean up Social Security records, and that means businesses are being forced to review employees who have discrepancies in Social Security numbers.

Since early this year, the Social Security Administration has sent letters to more than 800,000 businesses asking them to address cases in which their workers’ names or Social Security numbers do not match the agency’s files. The letters cover about 7 million employees.

Companies who employ a large number of immigrants could be the most affected by the checks. So far, thousands of immigrants have been forced to leave their jobs due to the Social Security Administration’s increased scrutiny, the Washington Post reported.

Agency officials say they just are trying to tackle a bookkeeping problem, and the action is not aimed at immigrants.

Officials also point out that there are innocent reasons why there are some discrepancies, such as the misspelling of a workers name, which easily can be corrected. For that reason, immigrants may have discrepancies because unusual foreign names frequently may be misspelled in companies’ records, prompting a no-match letter, immigrant advocates say.

Unlike the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Social Security Administration has no enforcement powers. Knowing that, some businesses have ignored the letters. But they still could be penalized by the Internal Revenue Service for providing incorrect information on wage forms.

OSHA: Hazards in Healthcare
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced in July that it is focusing its outreach efforts and inspections on specific hazards in nursing and personal-care facilities with high injury and illness rates.

The new program will focus its efforts and inspections on hazards such as:

  • Exposure to blood and other potentially infectious materials
  • Exposure to tuberculosis
  • Slips, trips and falls

OSHA will focus its resources on facilities that have 14 or more injuries or illnesses resulting in lost work days or restricted activity for every 100 full-time workers. OSHA is planning to inspect about 1,000 of these facilities.

This information is intended as a summary of legal information and should in no way be construed as legal advice. Contact your attorney before proceeding with any legal action.