IIAA Urges OSHA Not to Interfere with State Workers’ Compensation

July 30, 2001

As the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) explores how to remedy workplace ergonomics hazards, it should not transgress statutes prohibiting federal government interference with the state-based workers’ compensation system, according to Independent Insurance Agents of America CEO Robert A. Rusbuldt today.

The Department of Labor and OSHA, under the guidance of Secretary Elaine Chao, currently are examining what course of action, if any, they should take to address workplace ergonomics injuries. A series of three hearings have been held around the country. IIAA’s testimony was submitted jointly with the American Insurance Association (AIA).

This new Labor Department review follows the overturning of ergonomic standards issued by the Clinton Administration last November. Using for the first time the 1996 Congressional Review Act, Congress voted to kill the rules and President Bush enacted the measure in April. In the aftermath, Secretary Chao promised further study of the ergonomics issue.

IIAA, AIA and many other insurance groups opposed the earlier ergonomic standards because their work restriction protection provision and wage replacement requirements directly overlapped state-based workers’ compensation systems. The industry believed these provisions were a significant and unwarranted intrusion into the successful state-run social insurance program.

OSHA’s attempt to override state workers’ compensation laws was a violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), which limits OSHA to prevention of injury and expressly prohibits the federal agency from interfering in state workers’ comp programs.

The 1970 OSH Act expressly prohibits OSHA from regulating workers compensation. In the law, Congress established a boundary between the prevention of workplace injury and compensation for such injuries. OSHA was given authority to promulgate health and safety standards requiring employers to adopt measures to prevent the occurrence of occupationally related injuries. But Congress expressly prohibited OSHA from regulating compensation paid to workers who were injured.

IIAA believes it is imperative that the Labor Department and OSHA steer clear of any intrusion into state jurisdiction over workers’ comp.

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