Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Draft Ergonomics Proposal Released

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Draft Ergonomics Proposal Released

Article excerpt

All employers in general industry are covered by OSHA's working draft ergonomics proposal, and a complete program would be required after one musculoskeletal injury on the job, according to a draft proposal released by the agency on Feb. 26.

Even before any injury is reported, all manufacturing and manual handling operations -- 1.7 million worksites -- must identify all workplace ergonomics hazards and demonstrate management leadership and employee participation in resolving and eliminating these ergonomics hazards. The agency said these industries have the highest concentration of reported musculoskeletal injuries and are innately hazardous to workers.

OSHA rarely releases its working proposals, preferring to complete the regulatory process before presenting results. But the level of controversy surrounding the issue caused the agency to open the process sooner. While the proposal will likely change, OSHA administrator Charles Jeffress said the six key elements will remain intact.

Jeffress said an ergonomics standard will have a significant economic impact on employers, "but the savings on workers' compensation will more than make up for that cost." More than 647,000 musculoskeletal injuries are reported annually, at a cost of between $15 and $20 billion, the agency said.

Shortly after the draft proposal was released, comments rolled in from all sides.

"It's been a long eight years with a lot of obstacles, and we applaud the leadership of Charles Jeffress on this issue," said Bill Kojola, an industrial hygienist with the AFL-CIO occupational safety and health department. He added that the union is concerned, however, that the plan does not take a very preventive approach. "You are addressing repetitive injuries after workers are injured," said Kojola, "and I think that is a huge problem." The elimination of the construction, maritime and agriculture industries from the standard also troubles Kojola.

The National Coalition on Ergonomics (NCOE), a coalition of industry groups opposed to an OSHA standard, said the agency is moving forward without solid scientific evidence of what works to prevent ergonomics injuries.

"We need to understand the causes of repetitive stress injuries better before we regulate," said Robb MacKie, a member of the NCOE. "OSHA's proposed rule would make America's workplaces laboratories for costly ergonomic experiments while failing to offer the assurance of preventing one injury. …

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