Press Release by Congresswoman Pelosi

Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi

On the Scientific Basis for Ergonomic Standards

June 22, 1999

Ergonomic workplace injuries and illnesses constitute a national problem of high significance. Our competitiveness in the global economy is adversely affected. Our quality of life is clearly eroded. Our moral obligation to take care of one another is surely damaged. Every year, some 650,000 Americans report musculoskeletal disorders as a result of going to work and doing their jobs. It is estimated that another 200,000 afflictions are not even registered in the official statistics. Many victims are women, who are disproportionately affected by ergonomic flaws.

The financial costs are also enormous. If, as most experts agree, ergonomic disorders represent at least one third of all the lost time caused by workplace injuries in the nation, then the annual cost reaches into the billions of dollars. The impact of bad ergonomics is hardly in dispute. Study after study has confirmed -- and re-confirmed and re-confirmed again -- the personal and social costs of poor design and sloppy procedures in the workplace. How often does Mark McGuire need to demonstrate he can hit home runs? How often does Payne Stewart need to prove he can sink a putt? By some counts, more than 2,000 studies support the ergonomic research of the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Further proof is manifested in those gathered here today -- my colleagues, Representatives Owens of New York, Miller and Woolsey of California, and Johnson of Texas; and the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, American Nurses Association, Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, American Association of Occupational Health Nurses; and the American Public Health Association. All of us agree that H.R. 987 -- introduced by Congressman Blunt of Missouri, designed to delay OSHA's ergonomic standards until completion of another National Academy of Sciences study in two years, and scheduled for a June 23 vote in the House Committee on Education and the Workforce -- should be rejected.

Rep. Pelosi, joined by Reps. Owens and Miller, speaks at Ergomonics Press Conference.

In short, there is sound, convincing science to support the issuing of a standard. There is no real reason -- beyond raw political clout -- to delay the orderly and timely delivery of the proposed OSHA standard. The standard is warranted, and we should move ahead with all deliberate speed.

The following offers details on ergonomics, the Blunt bill, the OSHA standard, and the relevant science, including studies by the National Academy of Sciences:

Safety and Health Professional Associations Urge Congress to Allow OSHA to Issue Ergonomics Standard to Protect Workers from Job Injuries

Organizations Cite Scientific Evidence Proving Link Between Workplace Design and Injuries

The American Public Health Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses, the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, and the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine — representing over 2.7 million safety and health professionals — have come together to document the need for and support the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) efforts to establish an ergonomics safety standard to protect working men and women from injuries they face on the job.

"Ergonomics" is simply the science of adapting the workplace to the physical needs of human beings. Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) caused by ergonomic hazards are the biggest safety and health problem in the workplace today, accounting for nearly a third of all serious job-related injuries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports more than 600,000 employees lose time from their jobs each year because of musculoskeletal injuries, repetitive strain injuries (RSIs), carpal tunnel syndrome and back injuries and more than 2 million employees suffer these injuries. The annual workers' compensation costs of these injuries is estimated at $20 billion and $60 billion overall.

On June 23, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce is scheduled to vote on the so-called "Workplace Preservation Act," H.R. 987, which would prohibit OSHA from issuing an ergonomics standard to protect workers from these injuries until the National Academy of Sciences completes a study which is not expected for 18-24 months. The bill's proponents claim there is not enough scientific data to prove workplace design leads to injuries. The main national occupational and safety health groups believe existing science supports the need for an ergonomics standard.

In 1997, the U.S. General Accounting Office reported that employers' ergonomic programs reduced injuries, saved employers money, and increased productivity. For example, an AT&T facility that implemented a preventative ergonomics program had a 98 percent reduction in workers' compensation costs, from $400,000 in 1990 to $8,600 in 1994.

Contrary to the claims of some employer groups and their allies in Congress, there is a large body of scientific evidence — including more than 600 scientific studies, over 2,000 articles in scientific journals, and a report by the National Academy of Sciences completed less than eight months ago— which prove that workplace factors cause the muskuloskeletal disorders which cripple hundreds of thousands of workers every year and can be prevented. A 1998 National Academy of Sciences study entitled, "Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders," found that workers exposed to ergonomic hazards have a higher level of pain, injury, and disability; that there is a strong biological basis for these injuries; and that there are interventions to prevent these injuries. The American Public Health Association has stated, "We strongly oppose Rep. Blunt's legislation... such action would needlessly risk the health of millions more Americans." The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine stated, "There is an adequate scientific foundation for OSHA to proceed with a proposal and therefore, no reason for OSHA to delay the rule-making process."

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