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  OSHA Progressing on Ergonomics Strategy
 
OSHA is working steadily on four fronts to protect
workers from ergonomic injuries.


By Frank Meilinger
John Henshaw
OSHA Administrator John L. Henshaw said the agency is making good progress in advancing its ergonomics strategy.
Since Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao unveiled a comprehensive, four-pronged approach to reduce and prevent ergonomic injuries in the workplace last year, OSHA has made significant progress in each of the four elements of the ergonomics strategy.

The plan, which includes a combination of guidelines, outreach, enforcement, and an advisory committee, represents what OSHA Administrator John L. Henshaw calls "the best approach to achieve immediate results."

Guidelines
The recent release of final guidelines for the nursing home industry marks a big step toward implementing industry- and task-specific guidelines that Henshaw said will ensure prevention, flexibility, and feasibility. In addition, OSHA will soon release draft guidelines for retail grocery stores and is working with stakeholders to develop guidelines for the poultry industry. The agency also announced plans to work on guidelines for shipyards.

Meanwhile, OSHA is encouraging other industries to develop ergonomics guidelines that meet their specific needs. For example, the State of North Carolina and the American Furniture Manufacturers Association are working together to develop ergonomics guidelines for furniture manufacturing.

As part of their alliances with OSHA, several printing industry associations, including the Printing Industries of America/Graphic Arts Technical Foundation, Screenprinting & Graphic Imaging Association International, Flexographic Technical Association, and Envelope Manufacturers Association; and the Society for the Plastics Industry, Inc., are developing ergonomics guidelines for their respective industries.

Enforcement
OSHA's ergonomics enforcement plan involves coordinated inspections with a legal strategy designed for successful prosecution. The agency is placing special emphasis on industries with serious ergonomic injuries.

In support of this strategy, OSHA has conducted nearly 500 ergonomics inspections: 388 in nursing homes and 103 in other industries. In response, the agency issued and recently settled several citations for ergonomic hazards under the Occupational Safety and Health Act's general duty clause, and is progressing with additional cases. An inter-directorate ergonomics response team evaluates the merits and screens all cases before OSHA issues citations or hazard alert letters.

Last July, OSHA announced a national emphasis program for the nursing home industry, with a special focus on ergonomic hazards. In addition to conducting 388 inspections, OSHA sent 55 hazard alert letters to put employers on notice of ergonomic problems in their facilities. The agency will conduct follow-up inspections to evaluate the progress of companies who received the letters.

In addition, 14 regional emphasis programs and three local emphasis programs are under way across the country, focusing on ergonomic hazards in hospitals and in the meatpacking, auto parts, and warehousing industries. To assist staff, employers, employees, and other stakeholders with ergonomic issues, OSHA named ergonomics coordinators for each of its 10 regional offices. The Chicago Regional Office hired an ergonomist, and other regions are in the process of hiring ergonomists to help evaluate ergonomic-related enforcement cases.

grocers
OSHA is working with stakeholders to prepare draft ergonomics guidelines for retail grocery stores.
Outreach and Assistance
OSHA is moving forward through its cooperative programs to help workers and businesses address ergonomics in the workplace. At press time, the agency had 11 strategic partnerships with a focus on ergonomics and 13 national ergonomics alliances.

Alliance partners are working with OSHA on a variety of best-practice products, the American Meat Institute is providing input on ergonomics eTools for different operations in the meat industry, the Independent Electrical Contractors are working with OSHA on a material-handling eTool for electrical workers, and alliance members representing the airline industry are participating in the development of an eTool for workers who handle customer-checked baggage.

In addition, OSHA is promoting ergonomics training through a wide range of venues. The agency's affiliated Education Centers conducted 29 classes on ergonomics last year and have scheduled 47 classes for 2003. OSHA also awarded more than $1.6 million
in Susan Harwood Training Program Grants to organizations addressing ergonomics issues in Fiscal Year 2002.

To strengthen OSHA's outreach, the agency redesigned its ergonomics webpage to reflect the comprehensive, four-pronged approach to ergonomics. The webpage includes information on recent ergonomics enforcement actions, the National Advisory Committee on Ergonomics, eTools, cooperative programs, and ergonomics success stories from a variety of industries.

OSHA is involved in many other ergonomics initiatives. OSHA staff members serve as adjunct members
on the American Industrial Hygiene Association's Ergonomics Committee. OSHA also worked with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to develop a webcast that focuses on the willingness and ability of businesses to adopt and implement ergonomic policies.

OSHA's outreach extends to other government agencies, too. The agency provided ergonomic workstation training and evaluation assistance to the Internal Revenue Service, the Defense Contract Audit Agency, and several other agencies. OSHA also signed a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy and the U.S. Small Business Administration's Office of the Small Business and Agriculture Regulatory Enforcement Ombudsman to distribute ergonomics program information to small businesses.

OSHA continues to promote new, better ways to provide outreach and education. The agency is developing a new recognition program, modeled after OSHA's highly successful Voluntary Protection Programs, to highlight the achievements of worksites with exemplary or novel approaches to ergonomics. OSHA is also revising its video on nursing homes to include new, updated information about the use of mechanical lifts for patient handling. In addition, the agency is developing several eTools that focus on ergonomics.

Advisory Committee
OSHA established a 15-member National Advisory Committee on Ergonomics, with representatives from industry, academia, labor, and the legal and medical professions. The committee held its first meeting in January 2003. (See related article, "Ergonomics Committee Meets")

In addition, the agency is working closely with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and through the National Occupational Research Agenda process to encourage ergonomics research in needed areas. JSHQ

Meilinger is a program information specialist in OSHA's Public Affairs Office, Washington, D.C.