Will the Bush Administration Regulate Ergonomics? That question is on the minds of employers and employees throughout the USA. And the answer is … yes … I think. Allow me to explain.
If I put on my politician hat, which admittedly doesn't fit well, I say yes, the Bush administration will definitely pass some sort of ergonomics regulation before his first - and possibly final - four year term as President is over. If, as the end of these four years approaches, his administration feels another election victory is imminent, they will not allow an ergonomic regulation to pass, but will wait another four years until the end of his final four year term.
But wait, it’s not that simple.
If the balance of power in Congress changes from Republican to Democrat in the mid-term elections to take place this November, the political landscape will change, and so will “political necessity.” (I’m hoping for a Libertarian victory, but turned blue long ago while holding my breath in anticipation). If Bush finds himself working with/against a democratically controlled congress, it will be a political balancing act with each side using ergonomics as a bargaining tool for future votes and other initiatives. Even if that happens, I predict the Bush administration will be able to stave-off any opposing regulatory push.
Of course, anyone who follows U.S. politics knows that the Bush administration does not philosophically support an ergonomics regulation. But in politics, principles often give way to convenience and compromise, and my prediction is that Bush and his colleagues will claim allegiance to principles for as long as convenient, then they’ll quickly yield to political pressure and compromise:
If the Republicans don’t pass their own standard, the next force that gains power - likely to be the Democrats (I’m leaving room for a come from behind Libertarian victory … I can dream). We already know what that kind of regulation might look like, because the Clinton administration passed ergonomics regulations in the waning days of his power, which the Bush administration quickly rescinded when they seized power.But wait, there's more.
In December 2001 I attended the National Ergonomics Conference and Exposition in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.A. Assistant Secretary of Labor John Henshaw was scheduled to address the meeting to provide an update on OSHA’s direction with respect to ergonomics, but cancelled at the last minute citing “September 11th” as the reason for postponing long-awaited announcements regarding OSHA and ergonomics. Instead, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor Davis Layne – a title only a bureaucrat could possess - addressed the crowd. Layne seemed like a nice enough fellow, but reading between the lines of his prepared speech, I heard the message loud and clear. I took extensive notes, and was initially anxious to publish a report in Ergonomics Today™ detailing his message to the great unwashed masses, but in the end I couldn’t be a party to such obvious political stonewalling.
Here’s my recollection and interpretation of what he said:
We care about workers, blah, blah, blah, we’re still trying to figure out how to get out of this mess, blah, blah, blah, we’re committed to helping U.S. businesses, blah, blah, blah, OSHA is now a warm, friendly, fuzzy arm of the government, blah, blah, blah, we’re committed to education, not enforcement, blah, blah, blah, expect us to say something substantive about ergonomics someday “soon.”My memory might not be accurate, so don’t quote me on any of this, but that was the gist of his speech. Nothing against Layne or his colleagues, but I was disappointed, and not necessarily for the reasons you might think.
I’ve never been a big fan of an ergonomics regulation for a variety of very good reasons, but what bothered me most was his parroting of a disturbing theme I’ve heard from OSHA a lot since Bush was elected:
When it comes to ergonomics, OSHA will focus on providing education and resources, not on enforcement.Warmth and fuzziness aside, since when did it become OSHA’s job to educate and hold hands with business - or labor, for that matter?
When President Nixon (ironically, a Republican) established OSHA in 1970, and even when Former Secretary of Labor Elizabeth Dole (ironically, a Republican, and wife of former presidential nominee Bob Dole) first proposed an OSHA ergonomics standard, OSHA was a standards enforcement agency, not an education, training and consulting group. I’ve always been under the impression that private enterprise – companies like Ergoweb, for instance - were far better suited to provide business services. If I understand the current thinking, though, it’s government bureaucrats that make the best business associates, not private enterprise operating in a free society. See, even a regular guy like me can learn a thing or two from Enron!
Ah, but I digress. I do have a point, and here it is:
Smart, competitive companies will learn the compelling business case for ergonomics. Those companies will be well on their way to implementing the science and practice of ergonomics as a successful business strategy – long before the politicians and other dregs of society that spend their days buying and trying to influence them - catch up.I might be wrong with some of my predictions, and please excuse my somewhat tongue-in-cheek analysis, but you can take that last prediction all the way to the bank.