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OSHA RULEMAKERS LEARN A LESSON

Last June, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, issued a draft of proposed regulations to deal with ergonomic injuries in the workplace. The would-be rules staggered employers, who saw them as a federally imposed bureaucratic nightmare.

Such injuries - about 300,000 a year - involve strains from repetitive acts, often associated with using computer keyboards. Back strain and carpel tunnel syndrome are common results. But while the problem is real, the solution offered by OSHA seemed time consuming and costly.Employers complained that the requirements of doing motion studies, reviewing records, evaluating jobs and conducting annual reports could have inflated their costs by billions of dollars.

Those complaints were voiced to members of Congress and when the Republicans won control of both houses in last fall's elections, employers found sympathetic listeners.

The new House leadership agreed that the draft rules were oppressive and called them "paternalistic" and even a "menace."

However, the sympathetic ears did not include OSHA, which pushed ahead with the proposed ergonomic rules despite GOP calls for a moratorium on new safety regulations.

The House responded by taking a $16 million bite out of OSHA's 1995 budget, as part of a general budget reduction. The representatives followed up recently by slicing another $3.5 million from OSHA, in case the message wasn't getting across.

The message apparently was heard. OSHA said it is rewriting the ergonomic rules so they will be less of a bureaucratic tangle. In addition, they are to cover only 21 million employees instead of 96 million covered by the earlier proposed rules.

In trying to put the best face on the change of direction, Joe Dear, assistant secretary of labor in charge of OSHA, said:

"All OSHA is doing is asking for more feedback. We want to know what works before we publish a proposed rule."

What a novel idea.

Wonder why OSHA officials didn't think of this sooner before Congress pushed them into the change.