By Paul Queary The Associated Press

Saturday October 20, 2001

They claim it burdens, not benefits, employees 


OLYMPIA, Wash. — A coalition of business groups and other employers sued the state over sweeping new ergonomic rules designed to protect workers from injury. 

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Thurston County Superior Court by Washington Employers Concerned about Regulating Ergonomics, claims the rules written by the Department of Labor and Industries place a staggering burden on employers for dubious benefits to workers. 

“This is clearly a case of a state agency abusing its power and pushing through a rule based on political agendas,” said Tom McCabe, president of the Building Industry Association of Washington. 

State officials contend the regulations — enthusiastically backed by labor unions — are long overdue and could prevent thousands of injuries a year. The labor and industries department has no plans to rescind or revise the regulations, director Gary Moore said. 

“We’re very confident that the ergonomics rules will reduce workplace injuries and reduce employer costs,” Moore said. 

The department receives 50,000 claims a year from injured workers, costing employers more than $400 million. “That’s a huge toll of pain and suffering and lost productivity,” Moore said. 

The rules, to be phased in over six years beginning next July, require employers to identify tasks that are likely to cause back strain, repetitive stress and other injuries to muscles and joints. 

Businesses — starting with sawmills, construction and other industries that report the highest number of injuries — must take steps to lower the risks by buying new equipment, repositioning existing equipment or providing training on how to avoid injury. 

Major employer groups say the rules will cost them $725 million a year. The lawsuit also challenges the effectiveness of the ergonomic techniques spelled out in the rules. 

Proposals to delay implementation of the rules died in the closely divided Legislature this year. 

Nationally, ergonomic regulations were formulated during the Clinton administration. But Congress repealed them this spring, and Eugene Scalia, nominated by the Bush administration as the Labor Department’s top lawyer, has called them “quackery” and “junk science.” 


On the Net: 

Department of Labor and Industries: http://www.lni.wa.gov/