Rep. Joe Schmick | New costly ergonomics rules ignore will of the voters

Late-night sessions on the House floor are a yearly expectation.  Legislators propose and discuss the merits of amendments, debate the policy changes, and eventually vote on bills.

However, nine-hour battles on one bill are rare.

This is exactly what happed last week during a House floor session that finally ended at 6:30 the next morning.  This unique effort was needed to try to stop one of the worst jobs, economy, and employer bills I've ever seen in my time in the state Legislature.

House Bill 1837 will overturn a 2003 initiative backed by Washington voters that prohibits state ergonomics regulations that go beyond federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards.

Currently, the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) has ergonomic protections in place for workers.  In no way do we want to suggest that L&I isn't doing their job – they are!  Washington workers are indeed protected.

However, with inflation at a 40-year high, continuing supply chain issues, and food security consistently coming into question, now is not the time to add new voluminous and vague rules to Washington employers.

If signed into law, House Bill 1837 will increase labor costs, bring forth more automation into the workplace that results in job losses, send more jobs out of state, and make Washington a less desirable place to start or grow a business.

Appropriate worker safety is necessary.  But let's not overregulate our employers to the degree that they can't compete and are forced to reduce their workforce.

From the health care side of things, House Bill 1837 could severely exacerbate our current health care worker shortage.

Nurses and other hospital staff helping patients transition to and from beds and wheelchairs; dentists and dental hygienists leaning over to fill cavities and clean teeth; long-term care workers assisting their patients throughout daily activities.  These could all be impacted by the new ergonomics rules resulting in health care workers only working a few hours each day.  Is that what we want?

Here are some examples of rules that would have gone into effect if the original initiative in 2003 had not passed:

•           Work with hands above the head more than four hours a day.

•           Work with back bent forward more than 30 degrees more than four hours a day.

•           Work with the neck bent more than 45 degrees more than two hours a day.

•           Work squatting more than four hours a day.

•           Bend wrists more than 30 degrees more than three hours a day.

•           Grip an object weighing more than 10 pounds more than three hours a day.

•           Pinch an object weighing more than two pounds more than three hours a day.

If you are reading these regulations and are wondering how they could even be interpreted in the field and enforced, you're not alone.  There is a reason why voters voted AGAINST these rules in 2003.

We offered several amendments to exempt manufacturing, small mom and pop businesses, home offices, agriculture workers, and more, all in an effort to make the bill better and protect our economy.  All our amendments failed.

In the end, we fell two votes short in our effort to kill this bill and it passed 50-48.

However, our nine-hour floor fight for the employers, workers, and voters of Washington sent a clear message to the Senate which will now take up this bill: Republicans in Washington state will stand with voters and employers and fight against bills that harm our economy, send jobs out of state, and hurt our food security.

It is my hope that cooler heads in the Senate will prevail, and House Bill 1837 will be defeated, thus protecting our economy, our employers, and the voters, whose voice should have no shelf life.

(Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, is the ranking Republican on the House Health Care and Wellness Committee.)

State Representative Joe Schmick, 9th Legislative District
426B Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(253) 275-1425 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000