National News Release
Thursday, April 13, 2000
Contact: Susan Hall Fleming (202) 693-1999
"Time to Act on Musculoskeletal Disorders" Jeffress Tells Congress
Calling the science sound and the problem of work-related musculoskeletal disorders the
most widespread occupational health hazard facing the nation, Assistant Secretary of Labor
Charles N. Jeffress told a Congressional Subcommittee that after 10 years studying the problem,
OSHA believes it is time to act now.
Jeffress testified before the Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform and Paperwork
Reduction of the House Small Business Committee. He said that OSHA's proposed ergonomics
standard would prevent about three million work-related injuries over 10 years and save $9.1
billion each year. The nation currently spends $15 to $20 billion each year for 600,000 injuries
serious enough to cause workers to miss work.
"The human dimension of this problem is striking. This debate is about real people
confronting real risks to their livelihood, health and well-being," Jeffress said. He shared stories
of workers who have suffered devastating and irreparable injuries that have stricken them both
physically and financially. On the other hand, he also pointed to companies that have found that
"good ergonomics is often good economics" and saved money while reducing musculoskeletal
disorders among their workers. Many solutions to fix problem jobs, Jeffress said, are easy and
inexpensive and simply employ common sense.
Jeffress stressed the efforts OSHA has made in developing the proposal to accommodate
the unique needs of small business. He outlined an outreach plan to assist smaller employers in
meeting the requirements of the standard once it is adopted.
Reviewing the history of OSHA's efforts to address ergonomics, Jeffress described the
agency's two-year process of consulting stakeholders and small businesses. He pointed out
numerous changes made in draft versions of the proposal in response to concerns raised by these
groups. He also noted that during its ongoing nine-week hearing on ergonomics, OSHA is giving
hearing participants an opportunity to question agency staff and expert witnesses as well as other
participants. "OSHA believes it has provided sufficient time for this questioning, not all of which
has been used," Jeffress said. He noted that the public has more than eight months to provide
input on the ergonomics proposal including the comment period, hearing and post-hearing
The OSHA director concluded that "Companies that have worked to prevent these
injuries with sound ergonomics programs have often improved productivity, drastically reduced
workers' compensation costs and improved job satisfaction. OSHA believes that the same
opportunity for a safer workplace must be extended to other workers whose livelihoods and
careers remain at risk."
OSHA published its ergonomics proposal in the Nov. 23, 1999, Federal Register. The
agency received more than 7,000 comments during the 100-day comment period and will be
listening to more than 1,000 witnesses during nine weeks of hearings scheduled to conclude May
12. The agency expects to publish a final standard by the end of this year.
A copy of the full text of Assistant Secretary Jeffress' testimony is available on OSHA's website at www.osha.gov.
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Information on this release will be made available to sensory impaired individuals upon request.
Voice phone: (202) 693-1999.