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Occupational Safety and Health Administration OSHA

Unified Agenda - Table of Contents


Priority: Economically Significant. Major status under 5 USC 801 is undetermined.

Unfunded Mandates: Undetermined

Legal Authority: 29 USC 651; 29 USC 652; 29 USC 655; 29 USC 657; 33 USC 941; 40 USC 333

CFR Citation: 29 CFR 1910; 29 CFR 1915

Legal Deadline: None

Abstract: Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are a leading cause of pain, suffering, and disability in American workplaces. Since the 1980's, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has had a number of initiatives related to addressing these problems, including enforcement under the general duty clause, issuance of guidelines for the meatpacking industry, and development of other compliance-assistance materials.

Ultimately, the Agency decided that, given the magnitude of the problem, a regulatory approach should be explored to ensure that the largest possible number of employers and employees become aware of the problems and ways of preventing work-related musculoskeletal disorders. OSHA has examined and analyzed the extensive scientific literature documenting the problem of work-related musculoskeletal disorders, the causes of the problem, and effective solutions; conducted a telephone survey of over 3,000 establishments regarding their current practices to prevent work-related musculoskeletal disorders; and completed a number of site visits to facilities with existing programs. The Agency has also held numerous stakeholder meetings to solicit input from individuals regarding the possible contents of a standard to prevent work-related musculoskeletal disorders. Agency representatives have delivered numerous outreach presentations to people who are interested in this subject and consulted professionals in the field to obtain expert opinions on the options considered by the Agency. Information obtained from these activities is undergoing Agency review. Options for regulatory action are being developed.

The Agency believes that the scientific evidence supports the need for a standard and that the availability of effective and reasonable means to control these hazards has been demonstrated. The criteria that have been developed for setting OSHA priorities support the need to reduce the incidence of work-related musculoskeletal disorders. The Agency is currently developing a proposed rule for ergonomics. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has issued a report evaluating the scientific basis for the relationship of workplace stressors to MSDs. The report concludes that such a relationship exists for many stressors.

Statement of Need: OSHA estimates that work-related musculoskeletal disorders in the United States account for over 600,000 injuries and illnesses (34 percent of all lost workdays reported to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)). These disorders now account for one out of every three dollars spent on workers' compensation. It is estimated that employers spend as much as $20 billion a year on direct costs for MSD-related workers' compensation, and up to five times that much for indirect costs, such as those associated with hiring and training replacement workers. In addition to these monetary effects, MSDs often impose a substantial personal toll on affected workers who can no longer work or perform simple personal tasks like buttoning their clothes or brushing their hair.

Scientific evidence associates MSDs with stresses to various body parts caused by the way certain tasks are performed. The positioning of the body and the type of physical work that must be done to complete a job may cause persistent pain and lead to deterioration of the affected joints, tissues, and muscles. The longer the worker must maintain a fixed or awkward posture, exert force, repeat the same movements, experience vibration, or handle heavy items, the greater the chance that such a disorder will occur. These job-related stresses are referred to as "workplace risk factors," and the scientific literature demonstrates that exposure to these risk factors, particularly in combination, significantly increases an employee's risk of developing a work-related musculoskeletal disorder. Jobs involving exposure to workplace risk factors appear in all types of industries and in all sizes of facilities.

Musculoskeletal disorders occur in all parts of the body -- the upper extremity, the lower extremity, and the back. An example of the increasing magnitude of the problem involves repeated trauma to the upper extremity, or that portion of the body above the waist, in forms such as carpal tunnel syndrome and shoulder tendinitis. In 1996, employers reported 281,000 repeated trauma cases to the BLS. As a point of comparison, the number of reported cases in this category was only 22,700 in 1981. When the data are adjusted to reflect changes in the size of the employee population, they indicate that such cases have increased more than 7-fold in the last ten years. In industries such as meatpacking and automotive assembly, approximately 10 out of 100 workers report work-related MSDs from repeated trauma each year. The number of work-related back injuries occurring each year is even larger than the number of upper extremity disorders. Industries reporting a large number of cases of back injuries include hospitals and personal care facilities.

The evidence OSHA has assembled and analyzed indicates that technologically and economically feasible measures are available to significantly reduce exposures to workplace risk factors and the risk of developing work-related musculoskeletal disorders. Many companies that have voluntarily implemented ergonomics programs have demonstrated that effective ergonomic interventions are available to reduce MSDs. Many of these interventions are simple and inexpensive, but nevertheless have a significant effect on the occurrence of work- related musculoskeletal disorders. Benefits include substantial savings in workers' compensation costs, increased productivity, and decreased turnover.

Summary of the Legal Basis: The legal basis for this proposed rule is a preliminary finding by the Secretary of Labor that workers in workplaces within OSHA's jurisdiction are at significant risk of incurring work-related musculoskeletal disorders.

Alternatives: OSHA is considering many different regulatory alternatives. These include variations in the scope of coverage, particularly with regard to industrial sectors, work processes, and degree of hazard. The Agency has also considered various phase-in options related to the size of the facility. The agency is still developing and refining its regulatory alternatives.

Anticipated Costs and Benefits: Implementation costs of a regulation would include those related to identifying and correcting problem jobs using engineering and administrative controls. Benefits expected include reduced pain and suffering, both from prevented disorders as well as reduced severity in those disorders that do occur, decreased numbers of workers' compensation claims, and reduced lost work time. Secondary benefits may accrue from improved quality and productivity due to better designed work systems.

Risks: The data OSHA has obtained and analyzed indicate that employees are at a significant risk of developing or aggravating musculoskeletal disorders due to exposure to risk factors in the workplace. In addition, information from site visits, the scientific literature, the Agency's compliance experience, and other sources indicates that there are economically and technologically feasible means of addressing and reducing these risks to prevent the development or aggravation of such disorders, or to reduce their severity. These data and analyses will be presented in the preamble to any proposed standard published in the Federal Register.


Action Date FR Cite

ANPRM 08/03/92 57 FR 34192
ANPRM Comment Period End 02/01/93  
NPRM 09/00/99  

Regulatory Flexibility Analysis Required: Yes

Small Entities Affected: Businesses, Governmental Jurisdictions, Organizations

Government Levels Affected: Undetermined

Agency Contact: Adam Finkel, Director, Health Standards Programs, Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 200 Constitution Avenue NW., Room N3718, FP Building, Washington, DC 20210
Phone: 202 219-7075
Fax: 202 219-7125

RIN: 1218-AB36

Unified Agenda - Table of Contents

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