(Washington, DC) -- Today U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) spoke in favor of legislation to protect workers from ergonomic injuries. The proposal, known as the Breaux-Specter Ergonomics bill, passed the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee today 11-10. Murray voted for the measure. The bill must now be brought up for debate on the Senate floor.

Senator Murray's remarks on the bill follow:

Mr. Chairman, I'm proud to cosponsor the Breaux-Specter Ergonomics bill.

A little over a year ago, Congress rolled back more than 10 years of work by the Department of Labor on a national ergonomic standard with just 10 hours of debate on the Senate floor.

With support from the Bush Administration, Congress used the Congressional Review Act to deny millions of workers in this country relief from the single-largest occupational health crisis faced by America's working men and women today musculoskeletal disorders known as MSD's.

Each year, more than one million workers lose time from work because of an MSD, and it results in $50 billion a year in lost productivity.

Today we're trying to protect those workers by passing out of this Committee the Breaux-Specter Ergonomics bill.

The bill requires the DOL to finally complete its decade-long work to issue a strong ergonomics standard within two years.

The rule would only apply where workers are exposed to ergonomic hazards. And then, only to those workplaces where there are Aeconomically and technologically feasible measures to protect against those hazards.

The standard must take into account the needs of small businesses and must recognize the importance of compliance assistance for these workers.

This is a modest measure which provides DOL with a fair amount of the discretion. Unfortunately, the opponents of these protections are well organized and determined.

They have questioned the significance of the problem and have even questioned the scientific evidence from organizations like the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

These organizations have all studied ergonomics and have all concluded that MSD's are real, they are crippling millions of American workers, and that ergonomic regulation could help address the problem.

Opponents have used delaying tactics and they use them today. Their efforts are supported by the White House and the Department of Labor.

DOL is in the process of issuing voluntary guidelines for certain industries. It has issued such voluntary guidelines for four industries: poultry; health care, printing; and retail grocery stores.

These are not rules. They are voluntary guidelines. There is absolutely no enforcement mechanism to ensure compliance.

Industries will have no real incentive to comply with ergonomics standards, which the DOL is soliciting them to write. Failure to move on this today would send a horrible message to the millions of America's working men and women who are suffering from MSDs.

It says -- we know you're breaking your back - literally - day-in and day-out to put food on your table, but this Congress and the White House 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.

MSDs particularly impact women in the workplace. Women make up 44% of the total workforce. They account for just a third of the total injured workers, but women account for 64% of all lost work time due to repetitive motion injuries, and 68% 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.

Let's give America's workers the protections they need.

I urge my colleagues to support this bill and oppose any amendment that would weaken this legislation or delay implementation of an ergonomics rule.