Speeches - Table of Contents Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents
• Information Date: 09/29/1999
• Presented To: Massachusetts Ergonomics Fair in Fitchburg, Massachusetts
• 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NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.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
Ergonomics in the Workplace
Fitchburg, Massachusetts
September 29, 1999

  • Ergonomics. What is it? Simply put, it's the science of fitting the job to the worker.

  • It's the solution to the problem of musculoskeletal disorders or MSDs. It's the secret to higher productivity and job satisfaction. And it's the source of a lot of controversy in Washington!

  • Ergonomics is best defined as good business. Good ergonomics is good economics. It's about working smarter and safer.

  • It's about using equipment for lifting when possible, avoiding awkward postures and eliminating excessive force. It's about protecting the body from unnecessary wear and tear on the job. It's about reducing pain and increasing productivity. That's good for workers and good for employers.

  • You believe that ergonomics can make a difference in your workplace or you wouldn't be here to learn more about it. Today, you'll have the benefit of hearing from experts in a variety of fields who can help you find ways to prevent MSDs.

  • Ergonomics is a very hot topic in Washington. But it's not a new issue. OSHA has been concerned about MSDs 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, OSHA was petitioned to develop an ergonomics standard as soon as possible. In 1992, we began the rulemaking process in earnest. And in 1995, when we released a draft standard to discuss with stakeholders, all hell broke loose. Congress set riders on OSHA's budget for three years, prohibiting the agency from issuing a proposed standard.

  • Back to the drawing board. In 1997, we took a fresh look and decided to focus on jobs where hazards are the most serious and where effective solutions are known. Finding the problems is easy. Just look for jobs involving heavy lifting, repetitive motion, excessive force, vibration, awkward posture or rapid hand and wrist movement.

  • Identifying solutions can be tougher. So we turned to the experts-successful employers and employees, people like yourselves. Working with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, we held a national best practices conference in Chicago, and over the past year or so, we've held 11 additional regional best practices conferences to give employers and employees a forum to network and exchange ideas. You'll be engaged in a similar session here today.

  • While promoting education and training on this issue, OSHA has been working on an ergonomics standard as well. In 1998, we met with people interested in ergonomics in Washington, Kansas City, Atlanta and again in Washington to discuss the foundations for a standard. This year, in February, we placed a draft ergonomics proposal on our website. It generated a lot of public discussion.

  • In early August, the House of Representatives voted to prohibit OSHA from publishing a final standard until the National Academy of Sciences completes a second review of the scientific literature on MSDs in spring 2001. The House took this position despite an agreement among leaders in 1998 that the Academy study would not preclude OSHA's moving forward. Even the scientist who chaired the first Academy study says the evidence is more than sufficient for OSHA to proceed with rulemaking. President Clinton has pledged to veto any delaying legislation that might reach his desk.

  • OSHA is committed to going ahead with an ergonomics standard. We plan to publish our proposal in the Federal Register in the next few weeks.

  • More than one-third of all serious occupational injuries and illnesses stem from overexertion or repetition. That's more than 600,000 each year. These injuries cost businesses $15 to $20 billion annually in workers' comp costs alone. Add indirect costs, and the total mounts as high as $60 billion.

  • The scientific evidence on addressing MSDs is clear and substantial. The jury is IN on this issue. The verdict has been rendered: MSDs are linked to work, and we can take steps to prevent them. Let's review what we already know.

  • In 1997, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health conducted an in-depth analysis of 600 epidemiologic studies. NIOSH found a strong association between work and MSDs.

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

  • In other words, there are real people in the workplace who need protection. They suffer real problems -- sometimes very painful and disabling conditions. Their employers suffer real problems, too -- billions in workers compensation costs and lost productivity. And there are real solutions -- often easy and inexpensive ones, sometimes more complex, but ultimately well worth the investment.

  • Ergonomics is not just for the select few. We need to move beyond the 16 percent of companies in the U.S. that have effective ergonomics programs. We need to expand successful practices from the best companies to the rest of the companies.

  • The best way to do that is through rulemaking. While we've faced some opposition to our regulatory plans, we've also received considerable support. There's a whole list of scientific, medical and professional organizations urging us to move forward, including:

    • the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine,
    • the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons,
    • the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses,
    • the American Occupational Therapy Association
    • the American Nurses Association,
    • the American Public Health Association,
    • the American Society of Safety Engineers,
    • the American Industrial Hygiene Association,
    • the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society,
    • and the AFL-CIO and numerous international unions.

  • Once our proposal is published in the Federal Register, we'll accept public comments and hold hearings around the country in February and March of next year. We will incorporate suggestions from the hearings, respond to all comments and publish a final rule by the end of the year 2000, provided that Congress doesn't once again prohibit us from acting.

  • OSHA's proposal focuses on jobs where injuries are high and solutions are well demonstrated. Employers in general industry with workers involved in production operations in manufacturing or manual handling will automatically be covered. About 60 percent of all MSDs occur in manufacturing and manual handling.

  • Beyond these two areas, an employer with an employee who has experienced an MSD will need to look at that employee's job and similar jobs to determine if there are hazards. If hazards exist, the employer needs to control them. 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.

  • Let me make it clear, we're not talking about sore wrists or stiff muscles here. We're talking about painful, potentially disabling injuries. These injuries are not inevitable. They're not just a part of growing older. And they're not caused by playing tennis or golf on the weekends. And you know what they are, because you've seen them among your workers.

  • It just makes sense. 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. And that, very simply, is what OSHA's ergonomics proposal requires. If someone gets hurt, analyze why, and take action to prevent it happening again. We are not prescribing an exact course of action or a "one-size-fits all" solution. We're saying tailor your solution to the needs of your workplace.

  • Part of the reason we've chosen this approach has been what we've learned from employers and employees during our stakeholder meetings and at best practices conferences. Employers who've developed effective ergonomics programs tell us that's the approach they use. We've based our proposal 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.

  • It's important to avoid getting drawn into some silly debate on numbers. 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.

  • Some people who don't like this 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" specification standards. OSHA's critics can't have it both ways. 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.

  • Those who have already addressed ergonomics are ahead of the game. We want to recognize and reward their efforts. OSHA's proposal will include a grandfather clause for ergonomics programs that have been proven effective in reducing MSDs. If you meet the basic obligations identified in the standard, you're all set. If you start building an ergonomics program today, you know that your efforts to begin now won't be wasted.

  • The six basic elements of an ergonomics program named in the February draft are: 1) management leadership and employee participation, 2) hazard identification and information, 3) job hazard analysis and control, 4) training, 5) medical management and 6) program evaluation. There will be some modifications and changes in terminology in the proposal published this fall. But programs that include these elements will be on target.

  • While 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 construction. OSHA will need to act in both of these areas after the general industry standard is issued.

  • I hope you will all participate in our rulemaking. We welcome your written comments and or your personal testimony at one of our public hearings. We want to develop a practical, flexible rule-one that makes sense for each of your workplaces. We welcome your thoughtful, constructive recommendations.

  • I want to commend you for taking time to attend this conference-for recognizing the serious problem that MSDs pose and taking advantage of the opportunity to find ergonomic solutions that are right for your business. And I want to encourage you to work with us as we move forward in addressing ergonomics.

  • Ergonomics programs work. They reduce injuries. They improve employee morale. And they save money for employers

  • When employers protect workers, they also improve profits. That makes ergonomics truly a win-win proposition.


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 - Table of Contents Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents