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Reg WeekSM: CRE Regulatory Action of the Week

Key Senators Weigh In On Administration's Ergonomics Policy

CRE Website reporter, Don Fulsom, reports on current activities in the Senate to address the ergonomics rule. This is the first in a series of articles on the politically volatile issue of ergonomics standards for U.S. workers.

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    Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN) is vowing to hold Senate hearings "very soon" on the Bush administration's decision to hold additional public forums on ergonomics-related workplace regulations. In disclosing his plans, Wellstone denounced the forums as an "effort to delay and forestall effective action to address the hundreds of thousands of needless ergonomics injuries that take place every year."

    But Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) applauded the administration's move -- saying "before a problem can be solved it must first be defined." He described the decision, announced by Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, as a "positive initiative and an important step" in determining just what role the Labor Department should play in solving ergonomic problems.

    Now that the Senate is controlled by Democrats, Wellstone is chairman of the Employment, Safety and Training Subcommittee. Enzi is the ranking GOP member.

    In March, when the Senate was in Republican hands, Congress -- with the support of President Bush -- scrapped OSHA's controversial Clinton-era ergonomics rule.

    The Labor Department has scheduled three public forums for July. To be conducted by an administrative law judge, they will be held in Washington, D.C. on July 16, in Chicago on July 20, and in Palo Alto, California on July 24. Secretary Chao -- who will attend the first forum -- is expected to decide by September whether the department will pursue another government regulation, or adopt a voluntary policy.

    The goal of the forums is to develop a universal definition of workplace injuries caused by repetitive motion.

    In a related development, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions is gearing up for a July confirmation hearing on President Bush's nominee for the Solicitor of Labor, Eugene Scalia, - the department's top legal officer. The hearings will be chaired by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who supported the Clinton ergonomics rule.

    By Don Fulsom, former White House correspondent for UPI.