By JOAQUIN SAPIEN – PROPUBLICA | 2/8/10 4:51 AM EST
As the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the White House are trying to minimize their differences, a brewing battle at OSHA over a workplace-injury reporting rule illustrates how tough that could become, given the administration’s pro-labor leanings.
While bureaucratic clashes over subtle rule changes such as this one are usually waged outside public view, they can have big ramifications for businesses and workers.
At issue is a regulation that would force employers to identify when a workplace-related injury or illness is considered a musculoskeletal disorder, or MSD, a term broadly used to describe ailments — such as carpal tunnel syndrome or strains from frequent heavy lifting — caused by repetitive stress.
Figures gathered by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that MSD-related problems accounted for nearly a third of the 1.1 million workplace injuries and illnesses in the private sector that led to days off work in 2008.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration wants to include an additional column on the federal surveys employers are required to fill out, to identify when a worker’s injury is musculoskeletal in nature. Currently, these injuries are recorded in the same category as problems like hearing loss, making it difficult for OSHA to collect accurate data. Union representatives and OSHA officials say the data could help the agency find opportunities to reduce injuries.
But business representatives, including the Chamber, say the move is the Obama administration’s first step toward developing sweeping regulation of ergonomic safety, which could cost employers millions.
The spat hearkens back to the final days of President Bill Clinton’s administration; on Nov. 13, 2000, OSHA released more than 1,600 pages of ergonomic rules that had taken three years to draft.
The rules covered everything from the amount of time a construction worker could spend using a jackhammer to required breaks for people using a computer mouse.
The Chamber and other representatives of large employers persuaded congressional Republicans to pass riders on appropriations bills that would delay the release of the rules.
When the rules were finally issued a week before Clinton left office, employer trade groups responded by persuading the Republican-controlled Congress to shoot them down with the never-before-used Congressional Review Act. ProPublica included this anecdote in its “midnight regulations” coverage.
Now the same groups are worried that with Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, Obama might try to introduce similar rules.
Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0210/32660.html#ixzz0f3bvW4UD