OSHA's Principals for Ergonomics. (Compliance Monitor)

Article excerpt

Ergonomics continues to be a hot topic in Washington and the workplace, despite the fact that Congress invalidated the Clinton administration's ergonomics standard earlier this year.

Since taking office, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao has made it clear that OSHA will continue to examine the issue of ergonomic injuries and their prevention. "The issue isn't about whether we should deal with ergonomic injuries," she says. "It's about how we deal with them."

Chao, during testimony before Sen. Arlen Specter's Appropriations Subcommittee earlier this year, said she will base her approach to ergonomics "on cooperation and prevention, rather than the antiquated, adversarial approach of years past." Her testimony included six principles that will drive any ergonomics rulemaking. Chao's principles include:

Prevention. Chao wants greater emphasis placed on preventing injuries before they occur.

Sound science. Base any approach on the best available science and research.

Incentive-driven. Chao says cooperation between OSHA and employers is a must for ergonomics.

Flexibility. The agency wants to avoid a "one-size-fits-all" approach.

Feasibility. Any future action on ergonomics must recognize the cost of compliance on business, particularly small businesses.

Clarity. Any approach will include short, simple and common-sense instructions.

The Department of Labor announced in September that it was temporarily postponing the announcement of a plan of action on ergonomics until later in the fall. Employers should remember, however, that OSHA can and does cite companies for ergonomic violations under the general duty clause.

RELATED ARTICLE: SIMPLE SOLUTIONS: Workplace changes to reduce pain and cut the risk of disability need not cost a fortune. For example:

* Small changes, such as adjustable tables and chairs, combined with adequate ergonomic training, can make a huge difference.

* Change the height or orientation of the product or give workers tools with curved handles so they won't have to bend their wrists unnaturally.

* Provide lifting equipment so workers won't strain their backs lifting heavy items by themselves.

* Offer workers involved in intensive keyboarding more frequent short breaks to rest muscles.

* Vary tasks of assembly line workers to avoid repeated stress of the same muscles. …