Your Influence Counts ... Use It! The SPOTLIGHT by Liberty Lobby

Reprinted from, home of The SPOTLIGHT archive

Government Proposes More Rules to Hassle Mom-and-Pop Businesses

  • When the federal governments places costly roadblocks in the way of small businesses, who winds up paying?
By James P. Tucker, Jr.

A proposed "Safety and Health Standard Program" to be imposed by the government would bring government bureaucrats into every workplace in the country -- including the one-chair barbershop and the mom-and-pop grocery store.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) proposed "ergonomics" standard would cost citizens and small business owners billions of dollars and have no impact on workplace health and safety, according to numerous experts. The proposal would allow Washington bureaucrats to further intrude on the American people.

OSHA has a long history of bureaucratic intrusion and wasting taxpayers' money, some of which would be comical if not so costly.

Over the years, OSHA has spent taxpayers' money to warn carpenters that "broken ladders tend to collapse" and advise farmers that "manure is slippery when wet.' It once demanded restrooms in the fields for migrant farm workers.

Already, taxpayers have won an early battle in the new fight: OSHA has, under fire, agreed that the barber and mom and pop do not have to prepare a written policy on health and safety.

This is significant because writing and submitting a "policy" to Washington bureaucrats for approval can become a lifetime career in itself.

Much of OSHA's attempts to justify its proposal centers on "repetitive- stress injuries" that result in musculoskeletal disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome and back problems.


But, unless stopped, OSHA's latest power grab will be costly, experts told the House Education and Workforce Oversight Subcommittee on July 16.

The California Orthopedic Association, composed of physicians who specialize in musculoskeletal ailments, testified.

"There is no scientific basis" for OSHA's plan, said douglas Adams, head of safety for the San Diego Unified School District.

In his school district, costs of equipping workers with the latest "ergonomically designed" workstation would cost more than $750,000, Adams said.

"What does $750,000 buy for a school district?" Adams asked. "It means 30,000 new textbooks or 500 new classroom computers."

Such regulations would force the trucking industry to reduce "driver exposure to prolonged vibration and awkward positions" at a cost of more than $6 billion, said Mark Berkman of National Economic Research Associates.

The "fast-growing epidemic" OSHA proposes to cure is solving itself anyway, according to Carl Loop of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics -- like OSHA, and agency of the Labor Department -- "reported that ergonomic injuries were down seven percent in 1995," Loop said. "Repetitive-stress injuries account for less than one percent of all injuries and illnesses."

"In 26 years, no employee of mine has ever complained about a repetitive- stress injury or musculoskeletal disorder or any thing remotely similar," said Nelson Conger, a dentist with a practice in Dalton, Georgia.


But Washington is fighting hard for the new power grab.

"Establishments employing fewer than 10 workers account for 17 percent of employment but over 33 percent of workplace fatalities," Robert Watchman earlier told the House Small Business Committee.

He failed to mention that many such small firms are involved in high-risk work, such as construction.

"Over one million work-related illnesses and injuries each year occur in establishments with fewer than 20 employees," said Watchman, acting assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health.

Watchman's testimony came following sharp criticisms of the proposal by Rep. James Talent (R-Mo.).

"The proposed standard would place heavy new burdens of a procedural and record-keeping nature on every small business in the country, including those which have no record of safety problems and which have no record of safety problems and which are in compliance with all of OSHA's substantive standards,' Talent said.

OSHA is drafting and would enforce the standard. It would require all employers to "systematically" manage safety and health programs, train managers in safety and give employees an voice.

Earlyn Church of the National Association of Manufacturers questioned the value of ergonomics specialists, a growing field.

"Without using the 'E-word,' ergonomics, we are having a very hard time distinguishing between the pain from the weekend or a second job and pain related to factors in our workplace," Ms. Church said.

"If the injuries are cumulative, when did the accumulation begin?" Ms. church asked. "Is work the sole factor or is play, or the second job, that may not be covered by workers' comp?"

The top cause of work-related deaths, according to Labor Department figures, is vehicular accidents that do not occur at the worksite under supervision of employers, Ms. church said. Second is violence on the job.

"Are these truly work related?" she asked. "Are they work risks or life risks?"