Washington Repeal of Ergonomic Regulations, Initiative 841 (2003)

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The Washington Repeal of Ergonomic Regulations, also known as Initiative 841, was on the November 4, 2003 ballot in the Washington as an Initiative to the People, where it was approved. The measure repealed existing state ergonomics regulations and directed the department of labor and industries not to adopt new ergonomics regulations unless a uniform federal standard is required.

Election results

Washington Initiative 841 (2003)
Approveda Yes 656,737 53.49%

Election results via the Washington Secretary of State.[1]

Text of the measure

The language appeared on the ballot as:[2]

Initiative Measure No. 841 concerns the repeal and future limitation of ergonomics regulations.

This measure would repeal existing state ergonomics regulations and would direct the department of labor and industries not to adopt new ergonomics regulations unless a uniform federal standard is required.

Should this measure be enacted into law?[3]

Fiscal impact statement

The 2003 State of Washington Voters Pamphlet lists the fiscal impact statement, as prepared by the nonpartisan Washington Office of Financial Management, as follows:[4]

If I-841, which repeals certain worker-safety rules, is enacted, the state insurance fund for injured workers could lose an expected

savings of $686 million over the next six years, and $159 million annually thereafter. During the same period, state and local governments, as employers, could lose expected insurance and other savings of $220 million, and $51 million annually thereafter. Repeal of the rules also means governments could avoid paying $119 million in compliance costs over six years, and $21 million annually thereafter. Net loss to governments, as employers, could be $101 million over six years, and $30 million annually thereafter.

Assumptions Supporting Fiscal Impact Statement

State law requires the state Office of Financial Management to assess the financial impacts of voter initiatives on state and local governments. Initiative 841 would affect the state insurance fund for injured workers, as well as the operating costs of state and local governments.

The state insurance fund for injured workers, also known as the State of Washington Industrial Insurance Fund, is funded by premiums paid by all Washington employers except those who are self-insured. People who are self-employed also do not contribute to the fund. State and local governments, as employers, can either pay premiums to the state fund or be self-insured. The assumptions underlying the estimate of fiscal impacts are based on the Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) of the Ergonomics Standard, published by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries in May 2000. In addition, it is assumed that state and local governments’ schedule and costs for implementing the ergonomics rules follow the same patterns as industries in the economy as a whole.

Based on the CBA, the ergonomics rules adopted by Washington State, once fully implemented, are expected to prevent 40 percent of work-related musculoskeletal disorders and 50 percent of the costs that otherwise could occur without the rules in place. If Initiative 841 is approved by the voters, those ergonomic rules would be repealed and would affect state and local governments in two areas: the costs incurred by the state Industrial Insurance Fund for injured workers; and costs incurred by state and local governments as employers.

Effects on Industrial Insurance Fund

If the ergonomic rules are repealed, it is assumed that lower rates of workplace musculoskeletal disorders would not take place and, as a result, expected savings for the Industrial Insurance Fund would not occur. Based on the CBA, the loss of savings would be $686 million over the next six years and $159 million a year thereafter.

Effects on State and Local Governments as Employers

If the ergonomic rules are repealed, it is assumed that higher claim costs would result in higher insurance premiums paid by all employers, including state and local governments. Based on the CBA, the additional cost to state and local governments – including those that are self-insured – would be $132 million over the next six years and $31 million a year thereafter.

It also is assumed that without the rules, employers would incur other indirect costs due to worker absence, lost productivity, hiring, training and other related factors. Based on the CBA, it is assumed that the indirect costs for state and local governments would be $88 million over the next six years and $20 million a year thereafter.

At the same time, repeal of the rules would enable state and local governments to avoid the costs of compliance with the ergonomic rules. Based on the CBA, these costs are estimated to be $119 million over the next six years and $21 million per year thereafter. Based on the CBA, passage of I-841 would result in a net loss for state and local governments of $101 million over six years and $30 million a year thereafter.[3]


Arguments in favor

These arguments in support appeared in the official State of Washington Voter Guide:[5]


Repealing the job-killing ergonomics regulations isn’t about left or right. Republican or Democrat—it’s about protecting jobs and growing our economy. That’s why over 260,000 people signed the petition to put I-841 on the ballot and why I-841 is supported by a bi-partisan coalition of business leaders, small business owners and elected representatives. Find more information on our website at www.yes841.com.


The ergonomics regulations will cost businesses over $700 million a year, making Washington unattractive to new businesses, driving away existing businesses and putting people out of work. Even Governor Locke’s Competitiveness Council questioned the cost and necessity of the regulations. The cost of these regulations will force businesses to move out of the state, layoff employees and increase costs on everything we buy.


The Seattle Times editorialized the job-killing ergonomics regulations are “overreaching, vague and costly...Washington should follow the federal government in keeping ergonomics requirements voluntary.” The regulations can shut down manufacturing assembly lines at any time, putting employees out of work and hurting our state’s sluggish economy. Yet certain large, out-of-state corporations cut a deal and got an exemption from the regulations, while small, in-state businesses were unable to get the same exemption. That’s unfair.


Washington is the only state in the nation with such restrictive ergonomics regulations. Congress voted to repeal the federal ergonomics regulations and virtually all other states have rejected these job-killing rules. Given our weak economy, Washington can’t afford to be the only state with these costly regulations.

Vote Yes on I-841.

For more information, call 1.800.228.4229.

Rebuttal of Statement Against

The ergonomics regulations are an unnecessary job-killer. Ergonomic-related injuries have declined 28%— without burdensome regulations. Preventing workplace injuries is good business. That’s why businesses have voluntarily implemented ergonomics programs—tailored to meet their specific needs. Businesses have proven this approach works, but these one-size-fits-all ergonomics regulations carry no such guarantee. Forty-eight states and Congress have rejected ergonomics regulations. They know good training and voluntary guidelines—not restrictive regulations—are the best ways to reduce injuries.[3]


These arguments in opposition appeared in the official State of Washington Voter Guide:[6]


I-841 repeals an important workplace safety rule that prevents debilitating injuries. Each year 50,000 Washington workers suffer preventable ergonomic-related injuries to their backs, joints, muscles and tendons. These painful, chronic and preventable injuries, such as carpal tunnel, account for almost half of all workers’ compensation costs. The price that injured workers pay is immeasurable. Whole families suffer when a worker becomes disabled.


Our state’s ergonomic safety rule is good business. It prevents injuries, lowers employers’ costs and improves worker productivity. That’s why many Washington businesses already have workplace ergonomic programs. After 10 years of voluntary compliance, this safety rule is necessary because some employers refuse to address workplace hazards. It does not limit work hours or prohibit any work activities. It merely requires employers to do what is “economically feasible” to protect workers from known hazards.


The National Academy of Sciences and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have demonstrated ergonomic prevention works to reduce injuries. The Governor’s Blue Ribbon Panel, which included employer representatives, studied our state’s ergonomic safety rule, and concluded it is fair and understandable. Our state legislature and courts have repeatedly backed the rule when it has been challenged.


They have spent $400,000 on paid signature gatherers to get I-841 on the ballot. They want to repeal an effective workplace safety rule, and stop the state from ever adopting another one. Preventing workplace injuries is good business, and good common sense.

Vote no on I-841. Keep Washington jobs safe!

For more information, visit www.no841.org

Rebuttal of Argument For

Association of Washington Business President Don Brunell has written that ergonomic safety efforts “made sense, prevented injuries, cut down on workers comp costs and made the workplace better.”

We agree. Preventing injuries saves money and jobs.

The corporate special interests financing I-841 avoid the words “safety” and “injuries.” They don’t want voters to know I-841 would make Washington jobs more dangerous by repealing an important safety rule.

Don’t believe their lies and misinformation. Vote no![3]

Path to the ballot

Initiative 841 was filed on January 29, 2003 by Randy M. Gold of Wenatchee. 258,411 signatures were collected to qualify it for the ballot. The measure was placed on the ballot as provided for by the state constitution.[7]

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