Because of erroneous information provided by the Labor Department, a story Thursday incorrectly reported that employers with 10 or fewer employees would be exempt from a proposed mandatory seat belt rule. All employers would be covered by the rule, but employers with 10 or fewer employees would not be inspected routinely. (Published 7/14/90)

WHAT IS the single largest cause of occupational fatalities in the United States? Motor vehicle accidents, which kill approximately 2,100 on-the-job workers every year. In 1987, 36.5 percent of all occupational fatalities involved motor vehicles. In addition, some 91,000 lost-workday injuries are attributable every year to occupational motor vehicle crashes. With these facts before her, Labor Secretary Elizabeth Dole proposed mandatory safety belt use for all private industry employees who drive or ride in motor vehicles (taxis included) on the job and a requirement that employees riding motorcycles on business wear helmets, regardless of state law. Mrs. Dole estimates that the rules would reduce the death toll by as many as 684 a year and prevent as many as 32,000 lost-time injuries. The statistics make the case for buckling up.

The new rules come under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and would cover 5.4 million companies with 35 million employees who drive or ride. Employers with 10 or fewer employees are exempt. An employer could be subject to a fine if an employee fails to use a belt while riding in any motor vehicle while on assignment. All federal workers have been required to use belts on the job since 1986. The new rules would apply only to vehicles currently required to have seat belts.

Many employers have complained about the burdens of compliance with certain regulations pressed on them by OSHA. But it is farfetched to call this proposal "another example of regulatory overkill," as did an official of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It may be hard to enforce, but it encourages and advances a form of safety regulation begun in 1984 with a rule requiring passive restraints in motor vehicles. Every new car now must be equipped with an air bag or automatic safety belt. In 1984, less than 14 percent of people wore safety belts. Today, about 46 percent do. In 1984, there were no safety belt use laws in effect in any of the states. Today, there laws in 36 states and the District, covering 88 percent of the population. Mrs. Dole estimates that the original rule has saved more than 20,000 lives. "Another example of regulatory overkill?"