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WFIA Urges Safety Education, not Penalties, for Ergonomics - SB 5217 repeals voter-approved initiative regulating workplace injuries

An increased focus on workplace safety and outreach to employers would have a greater impact on reducing injuries than the new rules and penalties outlined in ESSB 5217, according to the Washington Food Industry Association (WFIA).

As a longtime member of the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Advisory (WISHA) Committee for Labor& Industries, WFIA President and CEO Tammie Hetrick believes SB 5217 is unnecessary since L&I still retains the ability to address workplace hazards.

“If there is one thing I have learned as a result of my experience in working with workplace safety experts is that ergonomics is not a one-size-fits-all issue. As it stands, employers are restricted from accessing an employee’s full medical history. And employees all bring unique skill levels and abilities into the workplace that can be exacerbated by a variety of factors occurring both during and outside of working hours,” said Hetrick.

“The research on musculoskeletal workplace injuries confirms the difficulty in diagnosing and treating these injuries. Our members work hard to provide safe workplaces for their employees, which is reflected in their safety records. SB 5217 would unfairly penalize all employers in one rate class for the missteps of a few.This could be addressed through education and outreach, not rules and violations,” she said.

“Addition allegislation like 5217 is simply unnecessary. What we need are education and outreach – those are viable alternatives to this legislation.”

In 2000, L&I adopted specific workplace ergonomics regulations requiring employers to reduce worker exposure to specific workplace hazards that cause or contribute to work-related musculoskeletal disorders. Initiative 841, passed by the voters in 2003, repealed the existing ergonomic sregulations. 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.

ESSB 5217 cleared the Senate (27-21) and is scheduled for a hearing on Friday, March 30 in HouseAppropriations.

You can view the press release here.