Administration proposes voluntary safety rules

By Tom Ramstack

The Washington Times

Labor Department officials said Friday they plan to use voluntary guidelines and targeted enforcement of rules to improve job safety rather than impose new regulations on employers.

The new "comprehensive plan" favors business owners but is also intended to respond to Democrats' demands for better job safety and health.

Last year, the Bush administration and Republicans blocked a proposal for tough ergonomics standards that business groups said would be prohibitively expensive.


"This plan is a major improvement over the rejected old rule because it will prevent ergonomics injuries before they occur and reach a much larger number of at-risk workers," Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao said in a prepared statement.

Mrs. Chao has been criticized by Democrats for failing to quickly develop a plan for reducing repetitive-stress injuries among workers. The regulations Congress rejected last year would have placed strict limits on repetitive movements and heavy lifting, and would have required employers to liberally compensate workers while they recover from injuries.

Under one part of the plan announced Friday, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will develop "industry and task-specific" guidelines to reduce ergonomic injuries, also known as musculoskeletal disorders.

The enforcement part of the plan calls for a crackdown on "bad actors," or employers in high-risk industries whose disregard for job safety would make them easy to prosecute. A special emphasis will be directed at protecting Hispanic or immigrant workers with weak English skills, who could be easy for employers to exploit.

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