Senate Dems criticize new Labor Department ergonomics plan

The Labor Department's announcement that it would complete work on a nursing home guideline as part of its voluntary ergonomics plan by the end of the year did not sit well with Senate Democrats at a Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing Thursday.

"This is really only a plan to come up with a plan," said Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who along with many other Democrats supported the Clinton administration rule repealed by Congress last year.

While the Bush administration earlier this month announced a four-part ergonomics strategy that would include education, voluntary industry guidelines, increased enforcement and research, Democrats said it was not stringent enough and that the administration did not put enough money into it.

Meanwhile, Republicans defended the plan. "This plan has more flexibility and responsiveness than any regulation could provide," said Sen. Christopher (Kit) Bond, R-Mo.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., pointed out that the Bush budget would cut nearly $11 million from the Labor Department's enforcement team and in-training grants at a time when the guidelines would begin to come on line.

Clinton also defended the program backed by her husband, former President Clinton, saying a rule was "the only thing they hadn't tried."

Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Employment Subcommittee Chairman Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., and others criticized the department's dependence on OSHA's "general duty" clause requiring employers to keep their workplaces free from recognized serious hazards, which has been used with mixed success.

"General duty clause enforcement is lengthy, burdensome, expensive, resource intensive, and--most importantly--not a preventative tool," Wellstone said.

Committee Republicans and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao vigorously defended the department's approach. Chao said that 17 new employees would be hired in the enforcement department, and she defended the decision not to move forward with another rule.

"There's an assumption that rules work.... That is not at all certain.... That rule would have been bogged down in litigation," she said of the Clinton rule.

As for the general duty clause, Chao pointed to the recently settled Beverly Enterprises case, where assisted lifting devices were required for workers. Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., noted that the case took 10 years to settle and will take another five to implement, but Chao said future cases would build on the experience and move more quickly.

Republicans also dismissed a bill introduced Wednesday by Sens. John Breaux, D-La., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., that would require the Labor Department to issue an ergonomics rule within two years. The bill would bring the Clinton regulation "back from the dustbin of bad government policy," Bond said.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.