Statement of Charles N. Jeffress
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health
March 4, 1999
Contact: Michael Fluharty (202) 693-1999
Statement: "This nation cannot afford to wait any longer to address the serious issue of work-related musculoskeletal disorders. Too many workers and their families are suffering needlessly,
and too many businesses are having to foot the bill. We need to complete an ergonomics proposal
that provides a flexible framework to help guide employers in addressing work-related
musculoskeletal disorders in a sensible, practical manner. Hundreds of employers have told OSHA
that ergonomics programs have proven effective for them in reducing injuries, illnesses, and
workers' compensation costs.
"It's time to hold a full, open debate on this issue through publication this fall of a formal proposal
in the Federal Register. The science is sound; the public health experts agree. The American
College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the American Association of Occupational
Health Nurses, the American Public Health Association, and others have urged OSHA to move
ahead on this issue. It's time that we do so."
Background Information: In October 1998, in response to a Congressional request, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) reported that workers who face high physical stress -- such as heavy lifting and repetitive motion -- have high rates of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs), and that "compelling evidence" exists that reducing biomechanical stress on the job reduces the risk of injuries.
In November 1998, Congress funded a second NAS study to again review the literature. The bipartisan leadership of the committee that funded the second study pledged that "it is in no way our intent to block or delay issuance by OSHA of a proposed rule on ergonomics."
Nearly 650,000 workers every year suffer serious injuries and illnesses caused by overexertion, repetition or other physical stress. These injuries and illnesses account for more than one-third of all lost workday injuries and illnesses in the country, and cost U.S. businesses from $15 to $20 billion each year in
workers' compensation costs alone.