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December 2, 2003 8:29 AM CST

Ergonomics: Common Sense Finally

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As Abraham Lincoln once said, "Public opinion in this country is everything." That certainly held true recently in Washington State where by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent voters there repealed the so-called ergonomics rules designed to protect workers from repetitive stress injuries. These rules, developed by the Washington Department of Labor and Industries, would have limited the number of hours a worker could spend in any one job with "repetitive" motions or awkward and uncomfortable positions. These rules were patterned after the same rules put forward during the Clinton Administration - rules that were ultimately rescinded by an act of Congress in 2001. These rules would have imposed unbelievable burdens on industry, resulting in lost productivity and valuable jobs, costing more than $725 million in the first year of implementation alone.

Fortunately, thanks to the repeal efforts of the Building Industry Association of Washington, an initiative was put on the ballot to overturn these stringent regulations. These rules would have applied to just about every sector of the State's economy - from grocery checkers, to nursing home employees to - yes - bricklayers and voters were finally persuaded that they would be put at a competitive disadvantage when it came to doing business.

Everyone wants a safe and hazard free work environment. But they also understand one basic, conservative tenet - that regulations aren't without cost and government's reach is oftentimes overly excessive. Other States such as North Carolina are working on their own set of ergonomics regulations and the Bush Administration continues to push guidelines for industries with high rates of incidence related to musculoskeletal disorders. Let's hope the voters of Washington State sent them and others a very strong message that basis of good government is the opinion of its people.


About the Author

Marian J. Marshall was the Director of Government Affairs for the Mason Contractors Association of America.

 

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