OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at http://www.osha.gov.
January 4, 1994
MEMORANDUM FOR: ROGER A. CLARK, DIRECTOR DIRECTORATE OF COMPLIANCE PROGRAMS LEO G. CAREY, DIRECTOR DIRECTORATE OF FIELD PROGRAMS FROM: BYRON R. CHADWICK REGIONAL ADMINISTRATOR - VIII SUBJECT: Laptop Computer Usage and OSHA's 11c Program
As you may be aware, over the last three years, Region VIII piloted a program in which laptop computers were used by our 11c investigators. The program involved using laptops for all field work including taking statements. I want to make you aware of a major ergonomic concern that has arisen from our experience.
All four 11c investigators who have been performing this work have developed repetitive motion disorders. One employee has an approved workman's compensation claim for chronic tendinitis. This employee has been on a job restriction (amount of time spent writing and keying) for over a year with no end in sight. The other three investigators have also been diagnosed and are receiving medical treatment for acute tendinitis. All are currently responding well to treatment.
It is our belief that the cause of these repetitive motion disorders was from the prolonged keying that was performed while taking statements. Since the statements are taken in the field at a variety of locations, an ergonomically designed work station is never present. Rather, the laptop is used on any worksurface available. Use of the laptops for statements poses a much greater hazard than normal laptop use. Statements frequently are lengthy; 4-8 hours is not unusual. In addition, the rate if keying is extremely fast since they are attempting to type as fast as someone is talking. Since these situation are stressful, it is also difficult for the investigator to maintain a relaxed posture while keying. Frequent breaks are usually not feasible since time pressure to accomplish the interview according to the companies' schedule and availability of employees and management usually exist.
As a result of these experiences, we have changed they way that we are taking statements. Rather than using laptops, we are now using tape recorders. Computer usage is primarily being limited to the office setting. The tape recordings are being transcribed in the event of litigation. We have found that not only does this eliminate the major ergonomic stressor, it has improved productivity. It is much faster to record a statement than it is to transcribe it using a laptop. Our investigators are also finding they are getting better interviews since they can now be more attentive to the interview. It is easier to listen to the person and watch for body language when not typing.
These experiences raise a concern for the rest of OSHA's 11c programs, in addition to CSHO usage of laptops, and the OSHA 200 project. To address the potential problems with CSHO usage of laptops in Region VIII, we have now implemented a comprehensive ergonomic program. Fortunately CSHO's spend only a fraction of the amount of time using a laptop as compared to the 11c interview process. All Region VIII CSHO's have received training on these concerns to include arranging for a makeshift workstation in a hotel. We have also installed a computer program, Life Guard, on our laptops. The program tracks the amount of time that is spent keying information. This allows an employee to monitor themselves for a specific work rest regime (i.e. 30 minutes keying with a 10 minute break). The program beeps and flashed a message when it is time for a break. With these precautions and the fact that laptop use is limited as compared to the 11c applications, I am hopeful that we will prevent similar ergonomic problems from occurring.
No other Region has been as progressive in support of office automation through the use of computers as Region VIII has. I fully endorse and support computerization. Based on our experience, I would encourage the agency to be proactive in addressing these ergonomic concerns, particularly when the computers are used in less than ideal settings for prolonged periods of time.