SB 5217 would repeal initiative I-841, which prohibits L&I from promulgating ergonomic rules unless the federal government adopts uniform standards on ergonomics at the workplace. This controversial bill, prime sponsored by Senator Manka Dhingra, would authorize L&I to begin promulgating rules to prevent musculoskeletal injuries. Rules would apply to individual workers’ compensation rates when claims are twice the average of all claims over a five-year period. Rulemaking is limited to one rate class, or sector, in any 12-month period.
Proponents argue that thirty percent of workers’ compensation costs are due to musculoskeletal injuries and that regulation would lower overall costs for all sectors. Business community witnesses cited data that musculoskeletal claims are on the decline, and the state shouldn’t initiate regulations when claims rates are moving in a positive direction.
WR testified in opposition to the bill because we believe the Legislature needs to invest in education and innovative ways to reduce the incidence of musculoskeletal injuries. WR pointed to its eight-year history working with L&I through their Safety and Health Innovative Program (SHIP) and Small Business Liaison’s contracts to bring technical assistance to businesses. When companies have the information and tools necessary to reduce injuries, outcomes are better compared to regulations. SB 5217’s regulatory approach will not provide assistance to businesses and will only lead to years of controversial rulemaking and, likely, litigation.
Labor unions called on the Committee to pass the bill, claiming, “future Washington workers are counting on you to act.”
However, in questions to L&I’s medical expert, Dr. Bonatto, Senator John Braun (R-20) was able to point out that any given sector includes a wide variety of employers, many, perhaps most, with exemplary safety records. Those businesses would be inappropriately impacted by any new rules. Additionally, Senator Braun pointed out that factors outside the workplace may be the actual source of injuries.
WR urged the Committee to refrain from adopting a regulatory approach and, instead, increase L&I’s ability to provide technical assistance and consultation to businesses.