Clipped From Asheville Citizen-Times
Page A6 Editorial Page Editor Joy Franklin 232-5895 232-5895 232-5895 ASHEVILLE CITIZEN-TIMES CITIZEN-TIMES CITIZEN-TIMES Dedicated to the Upbuilding of Western North Carolina 1870-1999 1870-1999 1870-1999 A GANNETT NEWSPAPER EDITORIAL BOARD VIRGIL L. SMITH, President and Publisher GEORGE BENGE, Executive Editor JOY FRANKLIN, Editorial Page Editor REBEKKAH MELCHOR LOGAN, Associate Editor BOB CAMPBELL, DON LOCKE, CAROL McCOLLUM and VESTA NEALE Editorial Board Community Representatives EDITORIAL State should stick to plan to develop ergonomics standard oith Carolina Department of Labor Commissioner Harry E. Payne Jr. would like to take steps to reduce the number of muscular and skeletal injuries in the state's workplaces, but an amendment to the House budget proposal is set to trip him up. That is, unless the amendment is removed in the Senate, which is exactly what should happen. First, it's important to understand understand the problem. Statewide, musculoskeletal musculoskeletal disorders (those affecting affecting the muscles, ligaments, nerves and other soft tissue) account for 70 percent of illnesses, such as carpel tunnel syndrome, and 37 percent of injuries that result in worker compensation compensation claims, according the the Labor Department Thousands of work days are lost each year and millions of dollars are spent as a result of those illnesses and injuries. The average worker compensation claim in 1997-98 1997-98 1997-98 amounted to $19,860. That's just the monetary cost The human cost is much higher. Those who suffer such injuries often lose their ability to work or to do normal everyday tasks, like pick up a child or move a chair. Eighty-seven Eighty-seven Eighty-seven percent of employees compensated for work-related work-related work-related carpel tunnel and 92 percent of those compensated for work-related work-related work-related back injuries are given ixrmanent disability ratings. More than 25 percent are unable return to work in any capacity. In the spring of 1998, Payne began developing an ergonomics standard for North Carolina companies. companies. Public information hearings were held last August including one in Asheville, and public hearings were held this spring in Durham. Hickory and New Bern. t 'nder the standard, employers with more than 10 workers would provide employees one hour of training within 90 days of employment employment and once every three years thereafter on how to identify, reduce and report work-related work-related work-related musculoskeletal injuries. Employers with 10 or fewer employees would have the option of giving them written written materials. Employees would be encouraged to report any pain to the employer so problems could be dealt with early before they cause crippling crippling injury. Employers would then have SO days to determine whether the symptoms are temporary or would require modification of the workplace, tool or work practices. They would also be required to provide provide medical care for injured employees and follow the written instructions of doctors. At the hearings, business and industry leaders argued that there is no need for the standard because most companies have already implemented implemented safeguards against employee employee injuries. They also argued that the standard is too vague, will cost companies billions to implement, and that there is no medical consensus consensus that repetitive stress illnesses and injuries are caused only by work. Among those opposing the standard was N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry, which is a leading corporate lobbyist. Ironically, the N.C. Occupational Safety and Health Project a workers' workers' advocacy group in Durham, while applauding the standard's objectives, complained that the standard standard was not proactive or preventive preventive enough. But N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry made killing the standard standard one of its top priorities. Rep. Harold Brubaker, R-Asheboro, R-Asheboro, R-Asheboro, introduced an amendment to the House budget at the eleventh hour that prevents the Labor Department Department from spending any money for the next two years to "develop, implement or enforce" an ergonomics ergonomics program. Payne is concerned that the amendment may even prevent his department from providing training to companies who ask for it through the Ergonomics Resource Center, a joint effort of the lalxr department and N.C. State I Jniversity. Payne says during informational hearings, business leaders said they didn't want 2(H) pages of rules, so the department responded by giving them a page and a half of rules that allow flexibility. The standard also includes a "safe harbor," which means it doesn't apply to businesses that are already doing a good job. The costbenefit study approved by the Office of State Budget and Management Management determined that the proposed proposed standard would actually save North Carolina employers $fi5 million million in the first five years it's in effect. The ergonomics standard wouldn't go into effect until January 2001 and before that happens, legislators legislators will have other opportunities to bkick it. The heavy-handed heavy-handed heavy-handed meddling represented represented by Brubaker's amendment completely ties the lalmr department's department's hands regarding what is clearly one of the most significant safety issues North ( 'arolina employees face. The Senate owes it to the state's workers to clear the path for Payne to continue developing developing an ergonomics standard and working with employers to prevent these crippling injuries.