Unions, Senators Tired of Chao's Ergonomics Delay. (OSHA)

Article excerpt

As the first anniversary of the annulment of OSHA's standard came and went with no word on Labor Secretary Elaine Chao's long-promised "comprehensive approach to ergonomics," the long-running battle over musculoskeletal disorders appears to be heating up again.

In March 2001, after winning approval from Congress, the administration signed into law a bill that nullified the ergonomics standard. Chao immediately promised she would pursue a fresh approach to reducing ergonomic hazards.

A year later, after a series of hearings and two missed deadlines (see timeline above), the administration still had not come out with its plan.

"Despite repeated promises, they have failed to provide new protections for America's workers," complained Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., about the Department of Labor (DOL).

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, chaired by Kennedy, is conducting an investigation of the ergonomics issue.

In a Feb. 28 letter to Chao, Kennedy and two other powerful Democratic senators - Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, chair of HELP's OSHA oversight subcommittee, and Tom Harkin of Iowa, who chairs the appropriations subcommittee that funds DOL - asked for information they said they needed to prepare for an oversight hearing on the issue.

For example, the senators asked Chao to describe "the information gathering, review and decision-making process the Labor Department employed in developing its comprehensive plan on ergonomics." They also sought all correspondence and memoranda, including e-mails, prepared or received by DOL employees pertaining to ergonomics since President Bush took office in January 2001. …