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Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents
• Information Date: 03/09/1999
• Presented To: Second Annual Applied Ergonomics Conference
• Speaker: Jeffress, Charles N.
• Status: Archived

Archive Notice - OSHA Archive

NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

"This document was published prior to the publication of OSHA's final rule on Ergonomics Program (29 CFR 1910.900, November 14, 2000), and therefore does not necessarily address or reflect the provisions set forth in the final standard."

Charles N. Jeffress
Second Annual Applied
Ergonomics Conference
Houston, Texas
March 9, 1999

  • Everybody's looking for a match. In "Fiddler on the Roof" Yenta seeks the perfect bride for the perfect groom. The executive recruiter tries to identify the CEO whose skills and personality will resonate with a company's established culture. Even the car salesman is looking for just the right vehicle to fit your style -- and your pocketbook.

  • When it comes to the workplace, matching is critical. Because as every ergonomist knows, a mismatch between the worker and the task can result in disabling injury.

  • We've all come to Houston to learn more about ways to better match work to the workers who do it. We want to improve productivity and eliminate pain. Ergonomics is about working smarter-and both employers and workers benefit.

  • This conference represents a wonderful opportunity to share successful ergonomics applications. Everyone here knows that good ergonomics is good medicine, good science and good business. Now, we just need to help a few folks in Washington understand that basic truth.

  • OSHA has been concerned about work-related musculoskeletal disorders for two decades. More than 15 years ago, we began offering training on ergonomics. In the mid 1980's, we solicited comments on ways to reduce problems associated with manual lifting.

  • In the late 1980's we worked with the auto industry and meatpackers to address injuries experienced by their workers. In 1990, we published ergonomic guidelines for the red meat industry. Those guidelines are still in widespread use today.

  • In 1991, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the AFL-CIO asked OSHA to develop an ergonomics standard. In 1992, we opened the rulemaking process. And in 1995, when we released a draft standard to discuss with stakeholders, all hell broke loose. Congress got involved and set riders on OSHA's budget for fiscal years 1995, 1996 and 1998, prohibiting the agency from issuing a proposed standard.

  • Back to the drawing board. In 1997, we started over. Working with NIOSH-and many of you -- we held a best ergonomic practices conference in Chicago. We launched an ergonomics page on our Internet site. Dave Cochran joined our staff to help develop the standard. And we held a series of regional best practices conferences.

  • In 1998, we met with stakeholders in Washington, Kansas City, Atlanta and again in Washington to discuss the foundations for a standard. On October 1, the Congressional rider was lifted. Three weeks ago, we placed a draft regulatory ergonomics proposal on our website. And last week, Congressman Blunt and others introduced a bill to prohibit OSHA from publishing a final standard until the National Academy of Sciences completes yet another study on work-related musculoskeletal disorders.

  • I've fielded a lot of questions these past few weeks. One I get asked too often is whether now is the right time for an ergonomics standard.

  • There's no doubt in my mind about the answer. Yes. Yes, now is the time. If anything, it's past time.

  • It's true we don't know everything. There's always room for more research. And we welcome that.

  • But, we clearly know enough to move forward. Ergonomics is not just for the select few. It's for the average worker moving boxes in a warehouse. It's for the nurse's aide lifting elderly patients in a nursing home. It's for the poultry processor sending that chicken toward the dinner table...or the fast food restaurant.

  • It's time we moved ergonomics beyond the best companies to the rest of the companies. It's time every worker could look forward to heading to work without facing pain or fearing disability.

  • Others have also indicated that it's time to move forward in addressing ergonomics:

    • the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine,

    • the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses

    • the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health,

    • the American Public Health Association,

    • the AFL-CIO, and

    • numerous individual unions and individual employers.

  • And so, OSHA is proceeding with its standard-setting process. Let me just review with you what we know -- and where we intend to go.

  • First, we know that nearly 650,000 workers every year suffer serious injuries and illnesses caused by overexertion, repetition or other physical stress. That's more than one-third of all lost workday injuries and illnesses in the U.S.

  • We are not talking about sore wrists or stiff muscles here. We are talking about conditions so serious that they require time away from work. Real people, real injuries.

  • These injuries cost business $15 to $20 billion each year in workers' compensation costs with total costs of as much as $60 billion. And business wouldn't be paying these bucks if the problems weren't job-related!

  • In 1997, NIOSH conducted an in-depth analysis of 600 epidemiologic studies from a universe of more than 2,000 studies on musculoskeletal disorders. NIOSH found a strong association between work and MSDs.

  • In 1998, the National Academy of Sciences conducted its first study. That study verified that substantial sound scientific evidence links back injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome and other MSDs to work. NAS concluded that workers who face high physical stress -- such as heavy lifting and repetitive motion -- have high rates of MSDs. Further, NAS pointed out that most people face their main exposure to such physical stress on their jobs. But even more importantly, NAS noted "compelling evidence" that reducing biomechanical stress on the job reduces the risk of injuries.

  • In other words, there are real solutions to make a real difference in the lives of real people. You know that. Many of you are here today because you found solutions in your own workplace. And you're willing to share your success. Others are here because you're committed to finding and implementing effective solutions to protect workers.

  • The keys to success are simple: reduce repeated motions, forceful hand exertions, prolonged bending or working above shoulder height. Eliminate vibration. Rely on equipment -- not backs -- for heavy or repetitive lifting. Provide "micro" breaks to allow muscles to recover.

  • Over the next several days, I'm sure you'll have many opportunities to see how these principles play out in practice in a wide variety of work settings. No doubt you'll learn new techniques, tips and strategies that will apply to your worksite as well.

  • We've talked about the problem of work-related musculoskeletal disorders-and some principles for solutions. Let me explain about OSHA's rulemaking. I guess everyone knows OSHA has completed a draft regulatory text. I invite all of you to visit our website at www.osha.gov to take a look at it -- 20,000 others already have. Last week, we began the first phase of the review process that puts us on target to publish a formal proposal this fall.

  • The first step is sharing a draft with a small business panel under the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement and Fairness Act -- or in Washington parlance -- SBREFA. Many of you have been involved in bringing us to this point -- attending stakeholder meetings, sharing your successes at best practices conferences. So, as we prepared to share the draft with small businesses, we wanted to share it with all those who've been a part of this journey. That's why we placed the draft on the website for everyone to see.

  • The SBREFA process takes 60 days. Following that is review by the Office of Management and Budget. We'll publish the formal proposal -- complete with preamble -- for public comment in September. Then we'll hold hearings in several cities and expect to issue a final standard by the end of the Year 2000.

  • In developing the ergonomics rule, OSHA promised to focus first on jobs where injuries are high and solutions are well demonstrated. We have done that. OSHA's draft specifies that employers in general industry with workers involved in production operations in manufacturing or manual handling are automatically covered. About 60 percent of all lost workday work-related musculoskeletal disorders occur in manufacturing and manual handling.

  • Beyond these two areas, employers whose employees have experienced work-related musculoskeletal disorders will need to look at the jobs to determine if there are hazards, and then control the hazards if they are found. Here we are talking about grocery store cashiers, individuals doing intensive computer work or people sorting mail in post offices -- jobs that are not well reflected in the data but where there are real problems and suffering people.

  • We're simply saying if you have workers who are getting hurt, you need to analyze why. Then you need to find a solution that works in your workplace. The OSHA draft rule provides a flexible framework that enables employers to address WMSDs in a sensible, practical manner.

  • Employers who've developed effective ergonomics programs tell us that's the approach they use. We've based this draft on existing good industry practices -- interventions that businesses are actually using, that have been proven effective in protecting workers. Employers told us they use our red meat guidelines, and we've drawn heavily on those guidelines in developing this proposal.

  • One size does not fit all. That is why OSHA has decided on the program approach. That's also why no one will ever be able to say that X number of repetitions or lifting X pounds will result in injury or conversely that Y number of repetitions or Y pounds will definitely NOT result in injury for anyone, any time, anywhere. However, many employers have proven that establishing a systematic program to address such issues as repetition, excessive force, awkward postures and heavy lifting, results in fewer injuries to workers.

  • OSHA can either promulgate specification standards or program standards. Some who don't like the program approach say it's too vague, that compliance officers will have too much discretion and will be able to cite anyone for anything. Ironically, these are the same folks who object to "one-size-fits-all" standards with specific provisions. OSHA's critics can't have it both ways. I think that a program approach offers employers the framework for addressing specific high risk areas and then handling other problems as they arise. It's the right way to go to provide needed protection for workers while providing maximum flexibility for employers.

  • It's important to note that OSHA is not acting alone. As you know, the State of California last year put an ergonomics standard in place. And Washington State and North Carolina are now working on standards of their own. While we applaud their individual efforts, we also are concerned that the nation not end up with a patchwork of ergonomic requirements that could have serious consequences for interstate businesses and their workers.

  • Many of you have already addressed ergonomics. You have successful programs in place. You're ahead of the game. We want to recognize and reward your efforts. The draft proposal includes a grandfather clause for ergonomics programs that have been proven effective in reducing WMSDs. If you meet the basic obligations identified in the standard, you're all set.

  • The six basic elements of an ergonomics program named in the draft are: management leadership and employee participation, hazard identification and information, job hazard analysis and control, training, medical management and program evaluation.

  • If you've looked at the draft, you know it's different from other OSHA standards. It's phrased in plain language -- question and answer style. We intend for people to be able to understand it easily.

  • In addition, OSHA is planning an extensive outreach effort to assist employers and employees in developing and implementing ergonomics programs once the standard is in place. In fact, President Clinton has requested an additional $12 million in OSHA's budget for 2000 to place occupational safety and health training and technical assistance staff within reach of every American business. We are committed to helping those who want to do the right thing succeed in establishing effective programs.

  • Initially OSHA is focusing on general industry. NIOSH has taken the lead in the shipyard industry with a three-year project to study ergonomic risks in the ship building and ship repair industry. Others are studying problems and solutions in constructions. OSHA will need to act in both of these areas after the general industry standard is issued.

  • Not long ago, one of OSHA's critics pointed out that 80 percent of Americans suffer back pain at some point during their lives. He suggested that was reason enough not to worry. For him, back pain represents the norm -- something to be expected. Take two aspirin and hope it goes away.

  • In fact, I believe the opposite is true. A twinge or two is one thing. But a serious, disabling injury cannot be dismissed as something everyone experiences. Real people are experiencing real injuries -- and there are real costs involved.

  • Work-related musculoskeletal disorders are a national problem that we must address. And we cannot wait any longer to do so.

  • As many of you have demonstrated, good ergonomics is good economics. In addition to reducing injuries, implementing these ergonomic solutions improves your productivity and improves your bottom line. Help us carry that message to American business.

  • There's another message I need your help carrying as well. Those of you here know that ergonomics makes sense. Your companies would not be investing the dollars that you are if these solutions didn't make sense. Yet the trade associations that speak for many of you in Washington are saying that there is no sound science to ergonomics, that ergonomic solutions reduce productivity and profits.

  • There is a serious disconnect in American business between those doing the work and those representing your efforts. I ask you to make a special effort to make sure that your government affairs staffs in your companies know what you are doing. Ask them to ensure that the business groups to which you pay dues accurately reflect your experience. In short, let's make sure that American business preaches what it practices. A little honesty in this debate will help us all.

  • I appreciate the expertise assembled here today. I applaud your willingness to share your success. And I welcome your assistance as OSHA seeks to help employers and employees find effective ways to eliminate work-related musculoskeletal disorders.

Archive Notice - OSHA Archive

NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents

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