Byline: Kristi Ellis

WASHINGTON — The Labor Department said Friday it will develop voluntary guidelines as part of a “comprehensive plan” for certain industries to reduce ergonomic injuries in the workplace, a move that prompted UNITE to lash out at the Bush administration.
The announcement is a victory for retailers and apparel manufacturers who lobbied hard through their associations against sweeping regulations. For UNITE, which fought just as hard for new regulations, the news was a bitter, but expected defeat.
Labor Secretary Elaine Chao had promised a “comprehensive plan” in the wake of the repeal last year of the Clinton administration’s workplace rules designed to protect workers from repetitive motion and other stress-related musculoskeletal injuries.
The agency’s new strategy includes: the development of voluntary guidelines this year by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration; targeted enforcement, a specialized focus to help Hispanic and other immigration workers, many of whom work in industries like apparel manufacturing, with high ergonomic hazard rates; compliance assistance training programs to help prevent injuries and research.
“Since Bush repealed OSHA’s new standard on ergonomics on March 20, 2001, back pain and hand/arm injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome have afflicted 1.4 million workers,” Bruce Raynor, UNITE president, said in a statement. “Many employers refuse to provide even the simplest ergonomic equipment, like adjustable chairs.”
On the other side of the debate, Kevin Burke, president of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, said, “The administration is trying to address the needs of employees and employer groups, and it has come up with a flexible program that meets both of their needs.”