News Releases

Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) continued her efforts to protect America's workers from the health and economic costs of ergonomic injuries. For the past 10 years, the U.S. Department of Labor has worked to develop a regulation to protect workers from crippling ergonomic injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome and other musculoskeletal disorders. In November 2000, the Labor Department finally issued an ergonomics standard, which became effective on January 16, 2001.

Today, some members of the U.S. Senate tried to eliminate the ergonomics standard by using the Congressional Review Act in a way it has never been used before. Opponents of the ergonomics standard are trying to use the Act and just 10 hours of floor debate to permanently invalidate a rule that took 10 years to craft. A vote is expected tomorrow. Murray will support the ergonomics standard by voting against the resolution of disapproval.

Murray has been a long-standing supporter of ergonomic protections. Last year, she opposed efforts to delay the rule's implementation, and she fought against amendments that would have banned funds from being used to implement the ergonomics standard. Copies of Sen. Murray's other speeches on ergonomics, including the following, are available on Sen. Murray's webpage at https://www.murray.senate.gov:

• Remarks Opposing an Amendment to the Labor, HHS Appropriations Bill to Prevent OSHA from Implementing Ergonomics Standard (6/22/00 & 11/13/00);

• Statement by Senator Murray Voting Against the Labor, HHS Appropriation Bill (6/30/00);

• Statement By Senator Murray on the Labor, HHS Conference Report (7/20/00)

Sen. Murray's remarks from today (3/6/01) follow:


Mr. President, about 10 years ago during the first Bush Administration, Labor Secretary Elizabeth Dole heard the stories and saw the statistics about the serious ergonomic injuries that American workers suffer. For 10 years, the Department of Labor, in consultation with business, labor, and Congress, has worked to enact a fair, enforceable rule to protect America's workers from the real harm caused by ergonomic injuries.

Now, with just a few hours of debate, some in this body are trying to undo a decade's worth of work. In fact, their actions would preclude the Department of Labor from enacting a similar rule. That sends a horrible message to America's working men and women. It says, "We know you're breaking your back, literally, day-in and day-out to put food on your table, but this Congress won't do anything to protect you from a serious injury." Today, many people wear down their tendons and their joints on the job. They go home after a long day of work and just want to pick their kids up and hold them, but they can't because of ergonomic injuries. To them, this resolution says, "Too bad. This Congress won't help you."

Mr. President, this rule will have an economic impact on business in America, but we must also consider the economic impact of injured workers. If a family's primary breadwinner can't work because of an on-the-job ergonomic injury, there is a serious economic impact to that family, that community, and our country. Mr. President, the human body has its limits, and this rule recognizes those limits and helps us become a safer, more productive workforce.

Last week, I received a letter from a constituent, Frank Lehn, from Washougal, Washington. Washougal is a great town. It's the kind of town where any parent would want to raise their kids. The gentleman who wrote me was a mill worker for 27 years, performing, as he described it, "extremely physical, manual-type labor." In his e-mail to me, he says:

"The constant stress of my job on my body resulted in a degenerative spinal disease, creating painful bone spurs where the nerves exit my spine. When I was finally unable to do my job, I was given a disability retirement, and now live on an $800 monthly pension. The ergonomics standard now in place came too late to help me, but I am greatly concerned about the future of the young workers who are performing the same tasks I did day after day for many years. It is crucial that we do not allow this vital standard to be weakened in any way. During my years on the job, many of my co-workers suffered painful injuries to their joints and muscles through no fault of their own. They were all simply doing their jobs. The many whose sweat and toil form the backbone of this nation need strong laws to protect their safety and welfare. Please oppose any effort to weaken or take away this nation's ergonomics standard."

Mr. President, we should heed Frank's words, and the millions of other workers who have stories just like his.

In fact, ergonomic injuries are the single-largest occupational health crisis faced by America's working men and women today. This resolution, if enacted, turns our backs on the people who build America, assist us at the grocery store, sew our clothes -- the people who keep our country running. Let's be clear: Today's debate is just the latest step in a larger attempt by some to deny progress on this issue. Many Americans will ask: Who could be against such a common sense measure? The answer: The current Administration and many here in Congress. They are trying to use the Congressional Review Act to undo a rule that was called for by a Republican and finalized by a Democrat based on 10 years of work. Today, they are trying to undo this vital safety rule because they've been losing this debate on its merits for the last 10 years.

I hope that gives my colleagues pause as they consider how they will vote on this measure -- a ten year, bipartisan effort versus a highly-charged, highly-partisan debate for 10 hours. The action we're contemplating today would strip the ergonomic standard off the books forever, and require a further act of Congress to implement another one. Let's look at one claim made by those who oppose this standard.

The opponents claim we don't have enough facts. Just two months ago, the National Academy of Sciences finished its second comprehensive study on ergonomics. They concluded that workplace practices do cause ergonomic injuries, and ergonomics programs can effectively address those practices that cause injury. Mr. President, this was the second Academy study on ergonomics that upheld this conclusion. In addition to the two studies by the Academy of Sciences, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health studied ergonomics. It found there is "clear and compelling evidence" that musculoskeletal disorders ( MSD's) are caused by certain types of work. And it found that those injuries can be reduced and prevented through workplace interventions. The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the world's largest occupational medical society, agreed with those findings and saw no reason to delay implementation. Mr. President, the studies and the science are conclusive.

Other opponents claim that this isn't a significant problem. The facts prove otherwise. Each year, more than 600,000 private sector workers in America are forced to miss time from work because of painful MSDs. These injuries hurt America's companies. Employers pay more than $20 billion annually in workers' compensation benefits due to MSDs. And employers pay up to $60 billion in lost productivity, disability benefits and other associated costs.

The impact of MSDs on women in the workplace is especially serious. Women make up 46% of the total workforce. They account for just a third of the total injured workers, but women account for 63% of all lost work time due to ergonomic injuries, and 69% of lost work time because of carpal tunnel syndrome. Women in the health care, retail and textile industries are particularly hard hit by MSDs and carpal tunnel syndrome. Women suffer more than 90% of the MSDs among nurses, nurse aides, health care aides and sewing machine operators. Women also account for 91% of the carpal tunnel cases that occur among cashiers.

Despite the overwhelming evidence of the impact of MSDs due to a lack of workplace standards, we are still debating the need for this rule. Mr. President, the states are getting this right. Last year, my home state of Washington became the second state along with California to adopt an ergonomics rule. The rule in Washington state is helping employers reduce workplace hazards that cripple and injure more than 50,000 workers a year at a cost of more than $411 million a year. It is estimated that it costs employers about $80 million a year to comply with the standards. But when they comply, employers save about $340 million per year. Clearly, this is a cost-effective program. Nationwide, the ergonomic rule is estimated to save businesses $4.5 billion annually. That's because workers' compensation claims will fall and production will increase.

Mr. President, I urge my colleagues to oppose this resolution. We should allow OSHA to get on with its job of protecting American workers from ergonomics injuries. If individuals have problems with the rule, I suggest they seek to modify it through the administrative process or craft legislation. Trying to use the Congressional Review Act, however, is a drastic action by desperate people. We should not allow 10 hours of debate to permanently invalidate a rule that took 10 years to implement and is clearly supported by credible science.

Let's give America's workers the protections they need instead of misusing this process to eliminate the safety standards that workers and their families rely on.