Voting along party lines, a Senate committee has approved a measure that would direct the Secretary of Labor to craft an ergonomics rule within two years. The bill, which the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved June 19 by 11-10, would apply to all industries including construction. Sen. James Jeffords (I-Vt.) sided with the Democrats to move the legislation out of the committee.

(Photo courtesy of the Office of Sen. John Breaux)

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration adopted an ergonomics standard in 2000 that applied to general industry, but excluded most of construction. That rule was repealed in March 2001, shortly after President George W. Bush took office. In April 2002, OSHA said it would issue voluntary guidelines for individual industries, but didn't specify which ones. Many construction groups have opposed an ergonomics rule, asserting that there is no sound science to support the need for such a regulation.

The legislation the Senate panel cleared was introduced by John Breaux (D-La.). Breaux claims his proposal is different from the Clinton administration rule because it clarifies for employers when they are required to take action, what action they must take and when they are in compliance.

There is no companion measure now pending in the House. Construction sources don't expect the Senate plan to be voted on as a separate bill. Instead, they say it is likely to be attached to other legislation, possibly the Labor Dept. appropriations bill.