Standards and Enforcement FAQs
Before issuing any citation alleging ergonomic hazards, OSHA will consider the evidence in the particular case, as well as other relevant factors. The basic criteria OSHA will use in deciding whether to cite are those imposed by the General Duty Clause itself:
- whether an ergonomic hazard exists
- whether that hazard is recognized
- whether the hazard is causing, or is likely to cause, serious physical harm to employees
- whether a feasible means exists to reduce the hazard
OSHA will not focus its enforcement efforts on employers who are making good faith efforts to reduce ergonomic hazards. This means the employers must implement ergonomic efforts at individual worksites. OSHA has issued citations to companies that have evidenced corporate commitment to lowering ergonomic hazards in their workplaces BUT have failed to effectively implement that commitment at specific sites. The General Duty Clause applies to conditions at individual worksites. Therefore, corporate commitment must be translated to positive action at the individual workplaces, or OSHA will not hesitate to issue citations where appropriate.
Even in cases where OSHA does not cite an employer, if ergonomic hazards exist, it may issue hazard alert letters describing ways to reduce the hazards and resources available to assist employers in this process. An important new feature is that OSHA will follow up with some companies that receive these letters, checking to evaluate what actions the employers have taken to address ergonomic hazards.
Congress passed, and the President signed, Senate Joint Resolution 6, which rescinded the original ergonomics rule, and under the Congressional Review Act, prohibits the agency from issuing a rule that is substantially the same as the former one.
OSHA has developed industry specific guidelines to provide specific and helpful guidance for abatement to assist employees and employers in minimizing injuries.
What if I am an employer in an industry for which OSHA does not develop industry-specific guidelines?
Even if there are no guidelines specific to your industry, as an employer you still have an obligation under the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) to keep your workplace free from recognized serious hazards, including ergonomic hazards. OSHA will cite for ergonomic hazards under the General Duty Clause or issue ergonomic hazard alert letters, where appropriate, as part of its overall enforcement program. OSHA encourages employers to implement effective programs or other measures to reduce ergonomic hazards and associated MSDs. A great deal of information is currently available from OSHA, NIOSH, and various industry and labor organizations on how to establish an effective ergonomics program, and OSHA urges employers to avail themselves of these resources.
Does this mean OSHA will not use the General Duty Clause to cite for ergonomic hazards?
OSHA will use the General Duty Clause to cite employers for ergonomic hazards. Under the OSH Act's General Duty Clause, employers must keep their workplaces free from recognized serious hazards, including ergonomic hazards. This requirement exists whether or not there are voluntary guidelines.
What will the OSHA enforcement program entail?
OSHA has been assessing MSD-related issues in complaints, referrals, and targeted inspections. OSHA will continue to evaluate the findings of its inspections and issue General Duty Clause citations or hazard alert letters for ergonomics hazards where appropriate. OSHA will do the same when responding to worker complaints.
OSHA will conduct inspections for ergonomic hazards and issue citations under the General Duty Clause and issue ergonomic hazard alert letters, when appropriate. OSHA will conduct follow-up inspections or investigations within 12 months of issuing an ergonomic hazard alert letter.
What about construction?
Where appropriate in the construction industry, OSHA will continue to evaluate MSD-related issues through targeted inspections and response to worker complaints.
Will OSHA notify employers who have high rates of MSDs?
Yes. As an adjunct to the Site Specific Targeting (SST), OSHA annually notifies employers in the OSHA Data Initiative who report high Lost Workday Injury and Illness rates at their establishment(s), and recommends that they seek assistance in addressing these workplace hazards. If employers report high rates of injuries which in some cases may be related to ergonomic issues, they will also be urged to seek assistance to address those hazards.
Directives and Enforcement Policies
- Inspection Guidance for Poultry Slaughtering and Poultry Processing Establishments. OSHA Memorandum, (October 28, 2015).
- Inspection Guidance for Inpatient Healthcare Settings. OSHA Memorandum, (June 25, 2015).
- Ergonomic Hazard Alert Letter Follow-up Policy. OSHA Directive CPL 02-00-144, (April 11, 2007).
Letters of Interpretation
- Clarification on the applicability of the Hazard Communication standard DEF tank operations. (December 20, 2011).
- Formaldehyde exposure and ergonomic hazards in the embalming/funeral home industry. (July 8, 2005).
- OSHA’s guidelines are advisory, do not create new employer obligations, and are not basis for citations. (June 7, 2004).
- Prevention of back injuries and use of back belts. (April 6, 1998).
- Requesting clarification of Slings. (May 31, 1995).
- Ability to reconcile the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s meatpacking guidelines. (September 12, 1991).
- Ergonomics in the Baking Industry. (October 16, 1991).
- OSHA has no standards for the design and implementation of video display workstations. (February 17, 1987).