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OSHA announces draft for national ergonomics program


February 19, 1999
Web posted at: 5:41 p.m. EST (2241 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced the draft of a national ergonomics standard Friday that could require businesses to redesign their workplaces.

OSHA's six-part proposal could require businesses to redesign their workplaces in order to avoid repetitive motion injuries. It would affect workers susceptible to injuries as varied as carpal tunnel syndrome from working at a keyboard, muscular injuries from lifting patients in a nursing home, and repetitive motion hazards from scanning groceries at a supermarket.

OSHA estimates that more than 647,000 Americans suffer from work-related musculoskeletal disorders, or WMSDs, because of ergonomically poor working environments, accounting for more than 34 percent of all work-related injuries and costing an estimated $15 billion to $20 billion annually.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce quickly condemned the proposal Friday on the grounds that there is little scientific evidence proving it is needed. The Chamber of Commerce also expressed concern about the cost to small businesses in implementing an ergonomics program.

"If this ergonomics draft is in fact the policy that OSHA is prepared to adopt, we strongly urge the agency to reverse course and rethink this unworkable proposal before serious mistakes are made," said Peter Eide, the Chamber of Commerce's manager for labor law policy.

Charles Jeffress, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, replied: "To my critics, I say, get your head out of the sand."

Jeffress said OSHA's figures are backed by several scientific institutions. Additionally, he told reporters, while there would be a significant cost to implement the program, businesses would actually net $4 for every $1 they spend for complying with ergonomics standards.

The six components of OSHA's program are: management leadership and employee participation; hazard identification and information; job hazard analysis and control; training; medical management; and program evaluation.

Under the draft proposal, manufacturing and manual handling operations, which OSHA figures make up 60 percent of repetitive movement injuries, would automatically have to comply with the first two elements.

Once an injury is reported, or if an employer learns that a hazard exists for a certain job (for example, through insurance reports), the business would then have to put into place the other four components for the job where the hazard was reported, and any similar jobs.

Other businesses would not be covered under OSHA's proposal until an injury or risk was reported for a certain job. At that time, the business would then have to implement all six program elements for that job and any ones similar to it.

Agriculture, construction and maritime jobs are exempt from the standards under the draft proposal, according to Jeffress, since there is not yet enough knowledge about WMSDs in those areas.

The draft will now go to a committee consisting of OSHA, the Small Business Administration, and the Office of Management and Budget, where it will be analyzed for its economic impact on small businesses.

This review, which will begin in early March, will last 60 days. The final draft will be submitted in the fall. The full text of the OSHA draft is on the Web at

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Mice bite less with ergonomic designs
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Occupational Safety and Health Administration
U.S. Chamber of Commerce
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