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July 16, 2001 ( -Today Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao kicks off a series of hearings on work-related injuries --but key Democrats have already accused the forum of turning a deaf ear to certain constituencies.

Today’s hearing in Arlington, Virginia, is the first of three hearings scheduled by Chao to help define a workable approach to resolving the issue of ergonomic safety in the workplace. The Labor Secretary plans to decide on a final course of action in September.

President Bush asked Secretary Chao to devise a cheaper way to address workplace safety, as he signed a repeal of new OSHA workplace safety regulations in March (see Bush Repeals OSHA Regs ). Businesses had claimed that those regulations –passed in the waning hours of the Clinton presidency — would have cost as much as $100 billion a year.

Forum Call

However, three key Democratic senators on Friday sent a letter to Secretary Chao expressing concern about the exclusion of some organizations from the forum schedule. The letter came from Senators:

  • Edward Kennedy (D-Mass), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee
  • Tom Harkin (D-Ia), chairman of the subcommittee that handles labor appropriations
  • Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), chairman of the employment and safety subcommittee

The senators cited the American Physical Therapy Association and the American Public Health Association as “credible, mainstream health organizations which have testified in the past on this issue,” yet were not included in the proceedings ( list of the scheduled speakers ).

The remaining forums are scheduled for July 20 in Chicago and July 24 in Palo Alto, California.

– Nevin Adams                          

OSHA has posted a question and answer page on the forums

Locations and times of the forums .