Ergonomics Coalition Takes Aim at OSHA

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has misread and misrepresented scientific research in order to justify plans to write workplace rules on repetitive actions like lifting and typing, a business group charged yesterday.

The charge, issued by the National Coalition of Ergonomics, is likely to deepen a bitter standoff pitting OSHA and its labor union allies against business groups and deregulation-minded Republicans now in control in Congress.

OSHA officials say business groups have launched a well-financed campaign to keep the agency from even considering a rule on repetitive-stress injuries.

The controversy has kept OSHA from proceeding beyond a March 1995 draft rule that was circulated in preparation for the issuing of a formal proposal. That proposal then would be the subject of hearings and debate before any final rule is issued.

A November 1995 notice in the Federal Register indicated the ergonomics rule was still on the agency's agenda, but it gave no date when a proposal would be issued.

But OSHA foes say the agency is pushing the new rules despite deep hostility in Congress and the absence of compelling data indicating there is even a problem.

"This is a greater snow job than the blizzard we had here last week," said Laurie Baulig, an official with the American Trucking Associations and co-chairman of the National Coalition on Ergonomics, an alliance of some 250 businesses and trade associations that has fought the OSHA proposal.

But OSHA head Joseph A. Dear yesterday accused the National Association of Manufacturers - a key member of the coalition - of a "backdoor campaign" to kill regulations that protect workers from debilitating illnesses such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

"If NAM wants to debate the science behind ergonomics," he said, "then the appropriate place is the regulatory process, where all interested parties - not just the well-funded special interests - can participate fully and openly."

Business interests "are the ones who have shut down this process," said Peg Seminario, director of the AFL-CIO's department of occupational safety and health. "They've been very successful in misrepresenting the rule from Day One. …