OSHA News Release - (Archived) Table of Contents|
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
One Size Doesn't Fit All Approach
ERGONOMICS PROPOSAL TO PREVENT 300,000 INJURIES;
SAVE $9 BILLION A YEAR
An average of 300,000 workers can be spared from painful, potentially disabling, injuries, and $9 billion can be saved each year under a proposed ergonomics program standard, Secretary of Labor Alexis M. Herman announced today.
"Work-related musculoskeletal disorders such as back injuries and carpal tunnel syndrome are the most prevalent, most expensive and most preventable workplace injuries in the country," said Herman. "Real people are suffering real injuries that can disable their bodies and destroy their lives. The good news is that real solutions are available."
The proposed OSHA ergonomics program standard relies on a practical, flexible approach that reflects industry best practices and focuses on jobs where problems are severe and solutions well understood. It would require general industry employers to address ergonomics -- the fit between the worker and work -- for manual handling or manufacturing production jobs. Employers also would need to fix other jobs where employees experience work-related musculoskeletal isorders.
About one-third of general industry worksites -- 1.9 million sites-would be affected and more than 27 million workers would be protected by the standard. Implementing these measures would generate average savings of $9 billion annually in workers' compensation and other direct costs alone. Fewer than 30 percent of general industry employers have effective ergonomics programs in place today.
According to Charles N. Jeffress, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, "This proposal includes some unique provisions to expand flexibility for employers because one size doesn't fit all. We've given employers a Quick Fix option and included a grandfather clause -- both designed to limit what employers need to do while effectively protecting workers. Three-quarters of general industry employers would not need to do anything until a documented, work-related injury actually occurs."
Each year 1.8 million U.S. workers experience work-related musculoskeletal disorders, such as injuries from overexertion or repetitive motion. About one-third of these injuries -- 600,000 -- are serious enough to require time off work. Work-related musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs, account for one-third of all workers' compensation costs each year because these injuries can require a lengthy recovery time.
Women disproportionately suffer some of the most severe MSDs -- not because their bodies are more vulnerable to MSDs -- but because a large number of women work in jobs associated with heavy lifting, awkward postures or repetitive motion. Women suffer 70 percent of the carpal tunnel syndrome cases and 62 percent of the tendinitis cases that are serious enough to warrant time off work. Each year more than 100,000 women experience work-related back injuries that cause them to miss work.
Under the OSHA proposal, about 1.6 million employers would need to implement a basic ergonomics program -- assigning someone to be responsible for ergonomics; providing information to employees on the risk of injuries, signs and symptoms to watch for and the importance of reporting problems early; and setting up a system for employees to report signs and symptoms. Full programs would be required only if one or more work-related MSDs actually occurred. The proposal also offers a "Quick Fix" alternative to setting up a full ergonomics program. Correct a hazard within 90 days, check to see that the fix works and no further action is necessary. In addition, a "grandfather" clause gives credit to firms that already have effective ergonomics programs in place and are working to correct hazards.
The OSHA proposal identifies six elements for a full ergonomics program: management leadership and employee participation, hazard information and reporting, job hazard analysis and control, training, MSD management and program evaluation. OSHA intends that ergonomics programs be job-based, i.e., cover just the specific job where the risk of developing an MSD exists and jobs like it that expose other workers to the same hazard. Ergonomics programs need not cover all the jobs at the workplace.
The proposal would require that workers who experience covered musculoskeletal disorders receive a prompt response, evaluation of their injury and follow-up by a health care professional, if necessary. Workers who need time off the job to recover from the injury could get 90 percent of pay and 100 percent of benefits -- to limit economic loss as a result of their injuries. Workers on light duty would receive full pay and benefits. This provision is designed to encourage early reporting to catch problems before they result in injuries. Strong evidence shows that employees are reluctant to report symptoms if doing so might cause them to miss work and reduce their paycheck.
Most employers in general industry will incur minimal costs. Employers who need to correct problems will spend an average of $150 per year per work station fixed. The total cost to employers would equal $4.2 billion each year.
Comments on the proposal are due Feb. 1, 2000. Informal public hearings will begin on Feb. 22, 2000.
The ergonomics proposal is scheduled to appear in the Nov. 23, 1999, Federal Register. Copies of the proposed regulatory text, the introduction and public participation sections and materials from the news conference are available today on OSHA's website at http://www.osha-slc/ergonomics-standard/ OSHA is also making available at no charge a CD-ROM with the regulatory text, the preamble, the complete regulatory analysis and the full discussion of health effects. Both the CD-ROM and printed copies can be ordered over the web or by calling 202-693-1888. These materials also will be available on the OSHA website shortly.
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(Editor's Note: Attached are a fact sheet providing more detail on provisions of the proposed ergonomics program standard and an explanation of how to participate in the rulemaking. The text of this news release, the fact sheets and other information on ergonomics are available on the OSHA's Internet site at http://www.osha.gov.)
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