In 2000 the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) adopted specific workplace ergonomics regulations requiring employers to reduce worker exposure to hazards that cause or contribute to work-related musculoskeletal disorders.
Initiative 841, passed by the voters in 2003, repealed the existing ergonomics regulations. The initiative also prohibited L&I from adopting similar regulations or otherwise regulating working practices to prevent musculoskeletal disorders, until and to the extent required by the federal government.
The L&I retains general authority to enforce against ergonomic-related workplace hazards under the general duty clause of the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA).
The restrictions on the specific regulation of work-related musculoskeletal disorders and ergonomics under WISHA are repealed, except that the restriction remains for home offices until and to extent required by the federal government.
(In support) The initiative creating the current restriction was passed after an advertising campaign warning voters about impacts on their work and losing health insurance. In the 20 years since, scientific understanding of this area has improved, and there is data on the costs of nonregulation. These injuries and diseases dominate in some industries, and there are many medical services and time-loss benefits that could be avoided under workers' compensation. There are effective methods to reduce and prevent these injuries and diseases. Workers should not be subject to choosing injury or unemployment. Workers' compensation does not fully compensate the impact of these injuries, and it would be better to prevent them in the first place. Removing the restriction would allow the L&I to go through the process of evaluating whether action is needed to protect workers. This bill would support essential workers, who deserve to work with dignity.
(Opposed) The initiative involved robust debate, overturned very controversial rules, and remains relevant. The earlier ergonomics rules were costly, overly burdensome, long, and specific, essentially forcing each business to act as an occupational therapist. There is a lack of medical consensus on how ergonomics should be defined and deployed. Major concerns in this area have already been addressed, and businesses continue to make efforts to prevent these issues. More ergonomics regulations would drive unwanted changes in the job market, reducing opportunities and customer service at a time when businesses are already dealing with impacts from the pandemic. These hazards are already subject to enforcement under the WISHA, and rules would add complication without justification or benefit. To the extent that claims for these disorders have increased, it is partly due to the broader coverage for injuries created by a series of court cases.
(Other) The majority of workers' compensation claims are related to the disorders that ergonomics is designed to prevent. This is an expansive field that evaluates and fits the work environment to a worker, with the effect of improving it for all workers. There are new ways to apply the current data and science to significantly reduce these claims. This bill would allow the L&I to do this work, but there is also plenty of other work to do at the moment in other areas.