Enzi: Ergo Proposal's Work Restriction Provision Won't Work

Occupational Hazards, June 2000 | Go to article overview

Enzi: Ergo Proposal's Work Restriction Provision Won't Work


For many in industry, topping the list of their least favorite provisions in OSHA's ergonomics proposal is a requirement that employers compensate injured employees at virtually the same rate whether or not they show up for work.

Sooner or later, it was all but inevitable that a subcommittee somewhere in the Republican-controlled Congress would hold hearings on the rule's controversial work restriction protection (WRP).

Sen. Mike Enzi's Subcommittee on Employment, Safety and Training took the first whack at WRP on April 27. The Wyoming Republican observed that after reading the ergonomics proposal, he could understand why it has gone nowhere for more than a decade.

"This hearing will focus on one small part of the rule," he continued, "but give a flavor for failure." According to Enzi, WRP should be re-named WCR for workers' compensation repeal.

Surprisingly, most of OSHA Administrator Charles N. Jeffress' testimony at the hearing had nothing to do with WRP, but was a repetition of the standard agency argument -- "real solutions" for "real people" -- as to why an ergonomics rule is necessary.

Jeffress eventually made the case that early reporting of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) is critical to preventing the ailment and protecting workers. Unlike other OSHA standards designed to prevent workplace hazards, the ergonomics rule only kicks in for most employers after an employee reports an MSD.

"If employees are reluctant to report MSDs in their early stages," he said, "serious MSD hazards in that job could go uncontrolled ... placing every employee in that job at increased risk of harm."

Jeffress received strong support for his position from Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., the lone Democrat on the subcommittee to show up for the OSHA head's testimony.

The ergonomics proposal gives employees who have been removed from the workplace due to a work-related MSD 90 percent of their net earnings and all of their benefits. The WRP provision requires that those on restricted work activity he paid the same amount they received before going on restricted work. …

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