Opinion

All ergonomic regs will reduce is employment

The ergonomic regulations that would be repealed by passage of Initiative 841, which appears on the state’s November ballot, are so unfathomable, unnecessary and fraught with the potential to kill jobs it’s hard to imagine any sane person could support them anyway.

But apparently a handful of people willing to allow their political aims and personal ambition to trump common sense and the common good do, which is why it’s important for everyone else to vote yes on I-841.

In general, ergonomics refers to the science of adapting work or the working condition to suit the physical needs of the worker. Ergonomics regulations are customarily adopted in order to prevent or reduce on-the-job injuries.

The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, however, in 2000 adopted sweeping ergonomic regulations that affect every employee — and employer — in the state. Crafted entirely by bureaucrats without the input of elected representatives, let alone business owners and managers, the stringent new regulations target workers employed in jobs that requre repetitive motion such as lifting, gripping and working with arms above the head, squatting or kneeling and limit the amount of time workers can spend at these jobs to four hours a day.

In addition, the rules force businesses with so-called “caution zone jobs” to adopt programs to train workers how to avoid the workplace injuries these activities are presumed to cause.

Preventing injuries is all well and good but, as two of the state’s leading authorities on ergonomics note, the L&I’s standards go too far. “Ergonomics must not be a regulation imposed on business, but instead ergonomics should be a tool used by businesses to improve productivity and reduce injury,” said William Brough, president of Washington Ergonomics, Inc.

Likewise, Ian Chong, president of Ergonomics, Inc., notes companies already have a compelling interest in cutting workplace injuries, but he believes the best regulations result from the companies themselves working with employees to develop policies tailored to the specific needs of their workplace rather than letting bureaucrats dictate one-size-fits-all solutions from Olympia.

The heavy hand of government is never welcome, but now especially, as the state struggles to recover from the current recession, the last thing Washington needs is more regulations that may or may not reduce injuries but will surely reduce jobs. Vote yes on I-841.

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