In February, OSHA went public with a sneak preview of potential requirements for controlling workplace ergonomic problems. Agency chief Charles Jeffress wants to formally propose an ergonomics standard this fall, and issue final rules sometime next year. That's rose-colored thinking, according to many OSHA-watchers in Washington. Already, a Republican Congressman has introduced a bill that would block OSHA action until more ergonomics studies are completed. Industry groups are up in arms. Even labor union safety officials who want an ergonomics standard are calling for changes. Indeed, Jeffress says specific requirements will undergo numerous and significant revisions before the standard is finalized.
Still, the OSHA chief is determined to push on. He cites "compelling evidence" that early identification of problem jobs, workplace modifications, training, and effective medical treatment can reduce work-related musculoskeletal disorders. More than one in every three lost-workday cases relate to these injuries and illnesses.
Industrial Safety & Hygiene News has been following OSHA's focus on ergonomics since the agency fined a Kroeger's supermarket $720 for allegedly exposing checkout operators to ergonomic risks in 1987. OSHA's long march toward an ergonomics standard has persisted ever since, through court challenges, Congressional bans, and the turnover of five agency administrators.
When a bureaucracy like OSHA sets its mind to something, experience shows it usually gets what it wants in the end. It may take years, but the standards-writers remain steadfast - if sometimes almost invisible - while political opponents come and go. Eventually the Washington climate becomes ripe for action. That's been the case with standards covering hazard communication, confined spaces, lockout-tagout, and other hazards.
And that's why ISHN's editors are presenting a three-part series analyzing OSHA's potential ergonomics requirements. Sure, specific details will be altered. The final publication date will very probably be pushed back. But as Jeffress says, the basic elements of the rule will not change. Over the next three months we'll examine those six elements:
- This month, we'll explain the scope of the standard, some key terms, and look at the first two basics: management leadership and employee participation; and hazard identification and information.
- In May, the focus will be on job hazard analysis and control; and training.
- In June, the series will conclude by looking at medical management and program evaluation.
In addition to getting you in line with OSHA's thinking, the series will also give you ideas for identifying and controlling problem jobs, particularly if you haven't already launched an ergonomics effort.
Are you covered?
The draft standard only covers workplaces in general industry. More specifically, it would only apply to:
- Manufacturing operations;
- Material handling operations;
- Any job in general industry where a work-related musculoskeletal disorder has been reported. These cases must be recordable on your OSHA 200 logs, and must involve jobs with regular exposure to ergonomics hazards.
The kind of ergonomics program you must set up under OSHA's draft rules depends on the extent of problem jobs in your workplace:
- If you have manufacturing or material handling operations, you must set up programs for management leadership and employee participation, and hazard identification and information.
- If you have no problem jobs in manufacturing or material handling, your compliance responsibilities end here - unless future workplace changes create problems or an employee reports problems.
- Additional requirements (job hazard analysis and hazard control, training, medical management, and program evaluation) kick in when a workplace musculoskeletal disorder is reported, or a known ergonomics hazard is identified through auditing.
- These requirements can extend to non-manufacturing jobs, such as office work, if an ergonomics-related disorder is reported.
- If you identify a problem job through auditing or reporting, you're also responsible for extending your ergonomics program to cover similar jobs where employees are exposed to the same hazards.
OSHA's draft standard, as it's now written, does not cover construction, maritime, or agricultural work.
Management Leadership & Employee Participation How do you show management leadership?