Feature Stories Archive
Set for Ergonomics Proposal
OSHA's proposed ergonomic standard could
be a pain in the neck for manufacturers.
Karen M. Koenig
Hearings are set to begin on the Occupational Safety and
Health Administration's proposed ergonomics standard which
will affect all general industry manufacturing production
employers, including plastics manufacturers.
According to OSHA, the proposed standard would require
employers to address ergonomics for manual handling or
manufacturing production jobs. Emplyers would also need to
"fix other jobs where employees experience work-related
musculoskeletal disorders." OSHA defines a musculoskeletal
disorder as "an injury or disorder of the muscles, tendons,
ligaments, joints, cartilage and spinal discs."
Under the proposal, one musculoskeletal disorder reported
in a workplace requires employers to set up a comprehensive
ergonomics program and compensate employees who are out of
work. The estimated costs to manufacturers are: an average
of $150 per year for fixing workstations; and a total of
$4.2 billion per year, "including $875 million now lost by
workers whose income and benefits are not fully covered by
workers' compensation." This $4.2 billion is more than two
times greater than the original draft estimate of $1.75
OSHA predicts the proposal will affect 1.6 million
Manufacturers' opinions mixed
There are mixed feelings among manufacturers regarding
the ergonomics standard. While no one will argue against the
idea of protecting more than 300,000 workers from disabling
injuries and saving the general workforce $9 billion in
workmans' compensation costs, the proposed standard has
drawn criticism from many manufacturers who question if the
cost might be too high. Small manufacturers in particular
say they will most likely be unable to bear the cost of
changing their manufacturing process or purchasing new
machinery to comply with the regulation.
In response, Charles Jeffress, assistant secretary of
labor, has publicly stated, "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."
But how does an employer determine if the MSD was indeed
caused at work or was the cumulative effects of something
which happened off site.Who is responsible?
In answer to this concern, OSHA has included in the
proposal two "screens" for determining if the injury is work
related: if the job's physical activities are reasonably
likely to cause or contribute to the MSD reported; and if
these activities are a core element of the job.
Two obvious questions to be put before the panel at the
hearings are what constitutes "reasonably likely" and how
does an employer objectively measure an activity's
contribution to the MSDs.
I'll be interested to hear the answers.
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