National News Release
April 26, 2001
Contact: Stuart Roy
Phone: (202) 693-4650
CHAO OUTLINES ERGONOMICS PRINCIPLES
Urges New Approach Based On Prevention
WASHINGTON - In testimony before the U.S. Senate today, Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao
announced principles for an approach to the complicated issue of ergonomics that emphasizes injury reduction, injury prevention and clarity.
"We have made great strides in improving worker safety over the last century," Chao told the panel. "But these improvements also demonstrate that the new century, and the new workforce, require a new approach to the safety needs of the American labor force -- an approach based on cooperation and prevention, rather than the antiquated, adversarial approach of years past."
"Ergonomics injuries are real," Chao said. "And defining the best, comprehensive approach for
ergonomic injuries is not a simple process. However, guiding principles will provide a vital starting point for common understanding, a point from which consensus can be attained."
Chao's principles include:
- Prevention-Place greater emphasis on preventing injuries before they occur
- Sound Science-Any approach should be based on the best available science and research
- Incentive Driven-Cooperation between OSHA and employers is a must
- Flexibility-Avoid a one-size-fits-all approach
- Feasibility-Small businesses need any future action to recognize cost of compliance
- Clarity-Any approach must include short, simple and common sense instructions
Chao also urged lawmakers not to set an artificial deadline -- one of the contributing factors to the demise of the previous ergonomics standard.
"Last year, OSHA was asked to complete the previous standard in an unreasonable period of time,"
Chao said. "During the 90-day comment period OSHA received 11,000 written comments, making up 188,547 pages. Piled on Top of each other, these comments and supporting documents would be 78 and a half feet high. In fact, standing on top of this stack without a safety harness would probably constitute an OSHA violation."
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 582,300 musculoskeletal injuries that resulted in employees missing time from work in 1999, the last year for which statistics are available. That was down from 1998 figures which showed 592,500 such injuries and down from more than 763,000 in 1993.