Despite declaring that the group is "not a single-issue
organization," officials with the State Chamber said their main
legislative priority in 2001 would be passage of a right-to-work
law, an issue that's been synonymous with the Chamber for at least
But the issue receiving the most attention from officials at the
Tuesday luncheon outlining the group's legislative agenda was a new
item: opposition to federal ergonomics rules issued by the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration during the closing
weeks of 2000.
The ergonomics rules address musculoskeletal disorders --
injuries caused by repetitive motions or stress. If an employee
reports a musculoskeletal disorder or a "sign or symptom" to his or
her employer, the employer is then obliged under the new OSHA rules
to take several steps culminating in the payment of compensations to
the worker under federal, rather than state, standards. The employer
must refer the employee to a "health care professional" and if the
health care professional recommends that the employee be removed
from work, the employer must follow that recommendation. The
employer must then immediately begin paying compensation at the rate
of 90 percent of the worker's earnings. The regulations will apply
to nearly all employers in Oklahoma, except for those involved in
construction, maritime and agriculture, according to chamber
The regulations went into effect last week, although OSHA
officials have said enforcement would not begin until October.
Mike Seney, vice president of the State Chamber, said the rule
tramples state's rights and could wreak havoc with the financial
stability of small businesses. He said that assertion is based on
estimates that the rules could cost Oklahoma employers more than $1
billion each year -- an expense "that, to the best of our ability to
determine, is not covered by any insurance policy," Seney said.
"That is a scary statement," he said.
Seney said existing workers compensation policies would not cover
the costs associated with the implementation of the new ergonomics
rules and the premiums for any new policy developed by insurance
companies would probably involve "very large" premiums.
"It is going to be a backbreaker," Seney said. "It is the most
expensive piece of regulation that I have ever seen."
The ergonomics regulations also appear to contradict other OSHA
rules, Seney said. Section 4(b)(4) of the OSHA Act specifically
prohibits OSHA from promulgating any rule that would "supercede" or
"in any manner affect" state workers compensation laws. And when the
act passed in 1970, Seney said, "Congress made clear that, while
OSHA had broad authority to promulgate standards governing the
prevention of workplace injury, it had no authority to regulate
compensation for such injuries."
Seney said the ergonomics rule "stomps all over a state's workers
compensation law." However, overturning the rule may not be easy.
"It cannot be repealed by a simple stroke of the pen by new
President Bush, because it was not created by a presidential order,"
Seney said. "It was passed by regulation, after Congress adjourned."
As a result, the State Chamber is supporting the efforts of the
National Association of Manufacturers and the National Coalitions on
Ergonomics to block the implementation of the new ergonomics rules
in court. And Seney said the Chamber may urge Oklahoma Attorney
General Drew Edmondson to file suit saying the OSHA rule violates
states' rights provisions in the U. …