WASHINGTON — Labor Secretary Elaine Chao said Thursday she will hold three hearings on work-related injuries, and the findings will help determine how the Bush administration will pursue a new policy to protect workers.
Democrats criticized the hearings as a delay tactic.
“We don’t need more study. We need action – now,” said Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., chairman of the Employment, Safety and Training Subcommittee now that Democrats have taken control of the Senate.
The hearings on ergonomics-related injuries will be in Washington, D.C., on July 16, Chicago on July 20 and in California on July 24, though the city hasn’t been decided yet.
The goal is to develop a universal definition of injuries caused by repetitive motion and stress. Chao will decide by September if she will pursue another government regulation or a voluntary policy.
“Guiding principles will provide a vital starting point for evaluating the issue and a point from which we can decide a final course of action,” she said in a statement.
An administrative law judge will conduct the hearings, which will allow public participation.
Ergonomics is the science of adapting working conditions to suit individual employees. Critics have complained that there is not enough scientific evidence to justify employer regulations that were issued late in the Clinton administration, but repealed in March by the Republican-controlled Congress. Since then, Chao has been under pressure to say how she will address workplace injuries.
Republicans praised the plan for hearings, saying study is needed about how such injuries occur and what the federal government’s role should be.
Chao “has obviously reviewed some of the voluminous testimony from the last misguided attempt and has struck at the heart of the problem,” said Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, which oversees the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Business groups complained that the scope of the OSHA regulations was too broad and that compliance would be difficult and costly, estimating the price tag at $100 billion. The repealed rules would have required employers to change work stations or jobs for workers complaining of injuries, and pay for medical attention.
OSHA said the rules would have cost businesses about $4.5 billion to comply, but would have meant in $9 billion in savings by reducing injuries.
The rollback was a big blow to organized labor, which had fought for such protections for more than a decade. Labor argued that enough studies and hearings have been conducted to support the need for regulations.
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