by David G. Propson
This year the occupational health and safety administration has unveiled a controversial set of regulations to address the problems of injuries caused by office work. The government has previously stepped in to address safety problem in heavy industry and manufacturing companies. But these new regulations are the first to affect those people now commonly referred to as “information workers” — that is, anyone who sits at a desk and uses a computer.
As we explain in our cover story (starting on page 32), everyday actions can cause some workers to develop severe repetitive stress injuries or musculoskeletal disorders. Companies need to look at how to improve office ergonomics. A good policy can cut healthcare costs and keep employees from missing work. And now there’s OSHA to worry about.
But correcting such problems will be expensive in the short term. OSHA estimates that U.S. businesses will spend about $4.5 billion, in total, to comply. Opponents estimates have put the number closer to 12.5 billion.
Many business interest groups that opposed the new regulations cheered when George W. Bush was inaugurated as our new President. They hope to eventually overturn these rules. The OSHA controversy has primarily been over whether businesses can be trusted to regulate themselves, and the new administration will likely take a more laissez-faire approach.
But anger over OSHA’s decisions should not cloud the fact that our high-tech civilization has brought with it many new problems; sore necks and eye strains are just minor ones. Issues such as Internet privacy have also been the subject of debates about whether the government should intervene.
We can now expect our government to regulate less, so business needs to make good on promises to regulate itself.