OSHA Blocked in Controversial Attempt to Prevent Musculoskeletal Disorders with Ergonomics Rule

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) currently has no regulation to protect workers in poultry processing and other industries from musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Its most notable effort – hailed by labor leaders as one of the agency’s most important worker safety initiatives ever – was defeated by business interests and a Republican Congress in 2001.

In November 2000, after a decade of study, the Clinton administration issued a sweeping ergonomics standard promulgated by OSHA. Under the rule, if a worker reported an MSD that required time away from work or met other specific conditions, the employer would be required to analyze the hazards of that particular job and, if needed, establish a program to reduce the risk of injury.

At the time, OSHA said MSDs accounted for about one-third of all job-related injuries and illnesses – nearly 600,000 each year. That made MSDs the single largest job-related injury problem in the country.

The rule would have offered protection to 102 million workers and prevented 4.6 million MSDs over a decade, according to OSHA. The agency estimated the yearly cost to employers to be $4.5 billion but said it would have an annual economic benefit of approximately $9 billion. Opponents argued the controversial regulation would cost $100 billion or more a year to implement.

Business interests, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, sued to block the regulation in court. But before the courts could consider the legal challenges, Congress, encouraged by President George W. Bush, voted in early 2001 to repeal the standard.

Ergonomics Program, 65 Fed. Reg. 68,262, 68,262 (Nov. 14, 2000) (to be codified at 29 C.F.R. pt. 1910), available at http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=FEDERAL_RE....