Congress contests ergo rule
In a precedent-setting move in early March, the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate voted by narrow margins to rescind a newly issued workplace ergonomics rule. At press time, President George W. Bush, had issued statements supporting the “resolution to disapprove” and was likely to sign the motion into effect. The resolution would repeal the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s ergonomics standard, which attempts to reduce work-related injuries.

Though blocking OSHA’s ergonomics rule has been a long-time goal of previous legislatures throughout the last decade, this is the first time the 107th Congress has contested the regulation, issued late in the Clinton administration. It also is the first time this type of resolution has been used since the Republican-controlled Congress created it in 1996.

OSHA’s ergonomics standard went into effect this January, with the first step requiring employee notification of relevant ergonomics risks.

Prior to Congress’ intervention, many industry groups, including the Inter-national Sanitary Supply Association, came together to file lawsuits attempting to stop the measure they say will be too costly for employers.

Under contention is a string of compliance measures triggered by a single complaint of a workplace injury, without validation of whether the injury indeed was work-related or could have been avoided through workplace adjustments.

Union leaders, strong advocates of an ergonomics rule, say they fear this latest measure will discourage OSHA from issuing future worker-friendly regulations.

Study shows back belts may not protect workers
There is no evidence that back belts reduce back injuries, according to a recently released study of retail workers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). This is the second NIOSH study to find insufficient evidence that back belts decrease work-related back injury risks, though the institute is quick to point out that studies have yet to disprove benefits from long-term use.

The study, conducted during a two-year time frame, found no statistically significant difference between the incidence rate of workers' compensation claims for job-related back injuries among employees who “reported using back belts usually every day,” and the incidence rate of such claims among employees who “reported never using back belts or using them twice a month or less.”

This information comes after the much disputed U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s ergonomics standard, enacted this January, stated that “Back belts may have protective effects in certain industrial settings, such as sudden unexpected loading of the spine.”

Manufacturers of ergonomics products question the NIOSH study’s validity due to the lack of a valid control group, and the fact that complaints stemming from non-work-related back pains might have skewed results.

One belt manufacturer, Back-A-Line, San Francisco, however, states the more prominent cause of back problems is poor posture, rather than lack of a back support. Back-A-Line contends that worker injuries are lower when belts are combined with proper posture.

To review the study’s complete results and other supporting information, click here.

Calif. Pesticide Incidents Up
Reported pesticide illnesses and injuries in California increased in 1999, according to newly released figures from the state’s Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), part of the California Environmental Protection Agency.

The DPR reported 1,201 suspected or confirmed reports of pesticide incidents in 1999, compared to 998 reported cases in 1998.

Five other states — Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Texas, Florida and New York — track pesticide-related incidents, but all of them omit incidents including disinfectant, sanitizers and other cleaning-related chemicals that fall under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s pesticide definition.

Twenty-five percent of the incidents reported in 1999 were attributed to non-agricultural antimicrobial pesticides, those most closely associated with commercial cleaning tasks. The majority of these incidents involved upper respiratory and other non-skin/eye irritations, providing a strong argument for respiratory protection when workers are exposed to cleaning chemical fumes for extended periods.

To review detailed injury data, click here.

AIHA Cites Top Policy Concerns
The American Industrial Hygiene Association has made the following areas high priority for its legislative lobbying efforts in 2001. To contact the organization for more information, click here.

OSHA reform issues making up the brunt of the association’s focus include third-party workplace review legislation; the ergonomics standard; the health and safety program standard; the indoor air standard and indoor air quality; regulatory reform legislation; risk assessment legislation; and small business assistance legislation.

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.