Identifying research gaps, improving ergonomics success story collections and distribution processes, and ensuring that ergonomics is part of an overall safety and health program are some of the recommendations the National Advisory Committee on Ergonomics (NACE) made during its final meeting November 17 in Washington.

The committee's work groups, which consist of guidelines, research, and outreach and assistance, proposed their final recommendations to the full committee for further presentation to OSHA. The two-day meeting culminated a process that started two years ago when NACE was chartered by the Secretary of Labor to provide advice and recommendations to help OSHA accelerate the decline of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in the workplace.

Adding to previous recommendations regarding outreach and assistance, NACE suggested that OSHA increase the number, quality and use of ergonomic success stories posted on the agency's Web site and offered a success-story template to facilitate the process.

Some of NACE's key recommendations are as follows:

  • Ergonomics should be included in an overall comprehensive occupational safety and health programs, and should be integrated into business processes in the same way as job safety analysis, personal protective equipment hazard assessments, process hazard analysis, and similar occupational safety and health tools.

  • MSDs are a consequence of exposures to risk factors of a multi-factorial nature. While the exact cause of a specific MSD may be unknown, and the precise effectiveness of an intervention may not be predictable, the objective of ergonomics is to reduce, to a practical minimum, the demands (e.g., physiological, cognitive, behavioral) of doing the work by controlling these exposures. To this end, a number of tools and guidelines may be useful.

  • Recognize that there are non-occupational components (e.g., general health, non-work, leisure, play and physical daily living activities) that also contribute to the development and occurrence of MSDs.

  • More research is needed to examine the validity of techniques used to establish a diagnosis of MSDs and to examine the role of psychosocial factors that contribute to or impact the development of MSDs.

  • Studies are needed to develop additional animal models in which the effects of physical loading on living tissues can be studied in a controlled manner.

  • Additional studies are needed to determine the economic impact to organizations of what are commonly described as ergonomic interventions.

  • Studies are needed regarding factors in workers' compensation systems and other statutory payment mechanisms on findings of causation, diagnosis, the duration of the disability and other outcomes related to what are commonly known as MSDs.