ELECTION RECOMMENDATION: Voters should OK initiative repealing
Washington State - Unlike any ballot measure in recent memory, Initiative
841 pits the state's employers vs. their employees. Its list of supporters
is a Who's Who in Washington business - among them Boeing, Weyerhaeuser,
builders, supermarkets and the Association of Washington Business.
It is opposed by Gov. Gary Locke and state and local labor unions.
I-841 would overturn state rules designed by the Department of Labor
& Industries to prevent ergonomic injuries to workers. These injuries
are usually caused by heavy lifting, repetitive motion and awkward
work positions. The state estimates that such on-the-job injuries
- about 50,000 annually - account for 30 percent of workman's compensation
claims and cost $411 million a year in medical expenses and wage replacement.
I-841 supporters argue that L&I's regulations, which go into effect
in 2005, could cost state businesses hundreds of millions to implement
at a time when many of them are barely surviving. And because Washington
would be the only state with such comprehen-sive ergonomics regulations,
new business would be discouraged from locating here. They say the
regulations are vague, and that L&I's response to questions about
them have been contra-dictory and confusing.
The pro-initiative camp probably exaggerates the difficulty and cost
of implementing the rules and overemphasizes industry's commitment
to voluntary improvements to worker safety. Still, The News Tribune
concludes that voters should approve the initiative and send the message
that L&I should find other ways to improve working conditions.
Burdening all employers - even those committed to worker safety -
with a confusing and possibly costly layer of regulation is not the
best way to target those employers and industries with the worst safety
records. And it's not the right message to send at a time when key
business leaders are calling for less, not more, regulation if the
state is to become more competitive economically.
A better approach is to offer employers more demonstration models
and input into how they can modify workplaces to im-prove safety.
And the state should use existing powers to come down even harder
on those employers who continue to experience high rates of worker
Many businesses have been slow to get on board with the idea that
small adjustments in the workplace - such as modifying a work station
or tool or providing equipment to lift heavy objects - can have big
payoffs in healthier employees and lower worker compensation rates.
L&I tried to address that problem with com-prehensive rules, when
the depart-ment would have been better off homing in on the worst
I-841 has one badly misguided provision: In addition to repealing
the ergonomics regulations, I-841 also would prohibit L&I from
future ergonomic-related rule-making. That seems punitive rather than
constructive - the very thing the initiative's backers accuse L&I
's ergonomic regulations of being.