Almost two months of hearings on OSHA's proposed ergonomics rule got started on March 13 in Washington. About 1,100 individuals will be telling agency officials what they think in two sets of hearings in Washington, plus hearings in Chicago and Portland, Ore.

"We must set a standard that will give working Americans a fighting chance to prevent back injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome, and other work-related musculoskeletal disorders that, together, represent the most serious occupational health hazards facing our nation," said Labor Secretary Alexis Herman. "That is why I am committed to making an ergonomics standard a reality this year."

Marthe Kent, head of OSHA's regulatory program, said that every administration and every secretary of labor since Elizabeth Dole has recognized that a regulatory solution is required to address the problem of work-related MSDs. "Economic feasibility is not an issue for this standard," she said, adding that the standard's impact on average industry profits is less than one percent.

OSHA estimates that 50 percent of all general industry employees currently work in facilities that have ergonomics programs in place, according to Kent.

It's important to remember that OSHA's ergonomics proposal represents the agency's thinking at the current time — "a proposal is only the first step in the public process," said Kent. OSHA is particularly interested in suggestions for ways to make:

  • the trigger for coverage by the full ergonomics program more proactive;
  • the screening mechanisms used to ensure the work-relatedness of ergonomic injuries and illnesses clearer;
  • the work restriction protection provisions less controversial; and
  • the compliance endpoint easier for employers to understand.