Wall Street Journal: Labor Department Withdraws Recordkeeping Proposal

f t # e
Washington, D.C., Jan 25, 2011 | comments
By Melanie Trottman; Wall Street Journal

The Labor Department Tuesday withdrew a proposal that would require companies to more carefully log workplace muscle sprains and strains, the latest result of the Obama administration's effort to respond to business concerns about federal regulation.

Employer groups had widely opposed the proposed recordkeeping change, saying it would put their members in the awkward position of defining musculoskeletal disorders they simply are not equipped to identify. They also view the proposal as a precursor to a broader ergonomics regulation.

"That's really why we've been concerned about this," said Keith Smith, director of employment and labor policy for the National Association of Manufacturers. The Labor Department's announcement shows the agency "is listening and taking the concerns of small businesses into account," said Mr. Smith.

The Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration said it withdrew the proposal to seek more input from small businesses. But unlike employer groups who say the proposal was in effect creating a new definition of what constitutes a musculoskeletal disorder, OSHA officials say the change would have simply required businesses to place a check mark in a newly added column for all musculoskeletal disorders. The adjustment was designed to make it easier for regulators to more easily gather data, one OSHA official said.

The proposal was under review by the Office of Management and Budget.

Last week, OSHA withdrew another proposed rule proposal on noise in the workplace that could have forced manufacturers to install noise-reducing equipment. Also last week, the Food and Drug Administration retreated from plans to tighten rules on medical-device approvals, postponing a proposal that would have given the FDA power to order additional postmarket studies of devices.

Both of the OSHA moves followed President Barack Obama's executive order to federal agencies to review proposed rules and cancel those that were redundant or imposed an excessive burden on small businesses. The order prompted positive responses from employer groups, although many want a broader rollback of proposed rules than the administration has so far indicated.

The Labor Department says musculoskeletal disorders accounted for 28% of all reported workplace injuries and illnesses requiring time away from work in 2009.

"Work-related musculoskeletal disorders remain the leading cause of workplace injury and illness in this country, and this proposal is an effort to assist employers and OSHA in better identifying problems in workplaces," said David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. "However, it is clear that the proposal has raised concern among small businesses, so OSHA is facilitating an active dialogue between the agency and the small business community."

OSHA's plans to seek more comments from the small business community is notable because the agency says most small businesses aren't required to keep records on the injuries and illnesses in question. The agency declined to elaborate.

f t # e