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U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., made the following statement at a Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee on Employment Safety and Training hearing today. Enzi is the former chairman of the committee and is now ranking member after Democrats became the majority party in the Senate.

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Statement by Senator Michael B. Enzi
Subcommittee on Employment, Safety & Training
Hearing on "Ergonomics Hazards in the Workplace"
July 18, 2001

Mr. Chairman. Thank you for calling this hearing today. As this is your first hearing as Chairman of the Subcommittee, I would like to recognize that and express my intent to continue a friendly and productive approach to our Subcommittee responsibilities. I want to thank the witnesses for appearing before us today.

I am especially grateful to Mr. Donald Morelli, whose 25 years in the field as a certified ergonomist will help provide a hands-on data and analysis with a basis in the science of ergonomics. Likewise, Dr. Connie Verhagen is here on behalf of the American Dental Association and is chair of the Michigan Dental Association's Special Committee on Health and Hazard Regulations. Her perspective as a small business owner, a health care professional and an expert in OSHA regulatory compliance uniquely qualifies her to stipulate how we might proceed in addressing ergonomics injuries.

I share the Secretary's position that more information on the science of ergonomics, particularly the attribution of such injuries to either work or non-work related activities, is needed before any new policy can be implemented. The 2001 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) study, which will be presented here today by Dr. Jeremiah Barondess of the New York Academy of Medicine, concludes that a comprehensive analysis is necessary to determine appropriate and effective actions for preventing and reducing ergonomic injuries in the workplace. However, an accurate analysis itself requires the ability to accurately attribute ergonomic injuries to work-related factors. In fact, the NAS study finds that more research is needed into this relationship between work-related factors versus individual factors and acknowledges the complexity of such research. On an even more fundamental level, there is dissension among the experts about whether certain ergonomics injuries are at all related to workplace activities. For example, not only was there a dissenting opinion by a participant on the NAS study panel challenging the connection between work exposure and carpal tunnel syndrome, but a Mayo Clinic study conducted last month concluded that computer use posed no increased risk of carpal tunnel syndrome. Given the scientific evidence, it is clear that we should educate and encourage employers to prevent ergonomics injuries. Where the science lacks clarity is in how to attribute ergonomics injuries to work exposure and, consequently, penalize employers for preventing only those actually caused by the workplace while encouraging them to help solve all repetitive motion injuries.

Similarly, I believe that developing model "best practices" for preventing and reducing ergonomics injuries is, in part, dependent on the science of attributing the injuries, and should be based on additional research as well as what has already proven to be reliable in a comparable workplace. There are a number of employers who currently operate ergonomics programs to reduce the occurrence of injury among workers. In fact, during hearings I chaired on ergonomics last year, then-Assistant Secretary for OSHA, Charles Jeffress, cited examples of employers with existing, effective plans tailored to meet the specific needs of their employees. This kind of activity should be studied for reliability and then modeled within industries, recognizing that, as Dr. Barondess stated, "there is no generic solution." In some industries it is not as easy to develop effective ergonomics plans. The health care industry continues to present itself as a case in point. How would an emergency room be capable of compliance in the wake of a natural disaster? How is the dignity or the wishes of a patient weighed against compliance requirements?

All of these questions need to be answered. Which leads me to my point. It's good news. A process has been undertaken by the Department of Labor. This is absolutely an administrative – not a legislative – matter and should be handled accordingly. We should not impede but rather support this process. The Administration deserves the opportunity to proceed, and has impressed me with their focus on the very complex issue or ergonomics. And unfortunately, the progress now is more difficult because of previous actions by OSHA that indicated a disregard for the process and the participants.

The Department is developing a new and comprehensive approach to addressing ergonomics based on the principles of prevention, sound science, incentive driven, flexibility and clarity. A cornerstone for developing this new framework is a series of public forums, the first of which was held this past Monday, to consider the following three questions: (1) What is an ergonomics injury: (2) How can OSHA, employers and employees determine whether an ergonomics injury was caused by work-related or non-work-related activities? (3) what are the most useful types of government involvement to address workplace injuries? The Department has announced that these forums were designed to be as fair and balanced as possible, with representation from the medical community, labor unions, business groups and social services. In response to the AFL-CIO's complaint that they were not given enough speaking slots, the Department has pointed out that organized labor was, in fact, over-represented at the forums, having been given three out of ten speaking slots -- more than they requested -- while they represent only one in ten workers.

Mr. Chairman. I hope I made my two points simply. First, sharing needs to be done on solutions. Second, there is a credible process under way at the Department of Labor. I support that process and urge my colleagues to also respect the division of responsibility in governance.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.