Business groups in Washington react to any mention of ergonomics like Superman confronting kryptonite. They want absolutely nothing to do with it.

Despite disclaimers from the Obama administration that there are no current plans to pursue a federal ergonomics standard for a second time (the Clinton administration’s ergo rule was overturned in 2001 by the Republican-controlled Congress using the Congressional Review Act), and that all options are open regarding how to reduce ergo-related illnesses, the recent announcement by OSHA that it intends to keep closer track of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in its recordkeeping requirements for industry has sent the U.S. Chamber of Commerce behind closed doors to draw up battle plans.

The chamber sees the recordkeeping requirement as the first baby step toward an inevitable full-blown ergo standard proposal.

The MSD recordkeeping proposal would simply provide OSHA, the public, and industry with a more accurate count of how many MSD injuries are actually occurring, OSHA officials say.

At the crux of this ergo skirmish is how broadly or narrowly MSDs are defined.

According to a web post by Joanne Linhard, an occupational safety and health expert with the consultancy ORC Worldwide, based in Washington, DC, “on January 28, OSHA announced it would publish a proposed rule to revise its Occupational Injury and Illness Recording and Reporting regulation (29 CFR 1904) to restore a column to the OSHA 300 Log that employers would use to record work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSD). This proposed rule would require employers to place a check mark in the MSD column, instead of the column they currently mark, if a case is an MSD that meets the recordkeeping regulation’s general recording requirements.”

Written comments to OSHA on the proposal must be received or postmarked by March 15, 2010.

OSHA’s proposed regulatory language states:

2. A new §1904.12 is to be added to read as follows:

§ 1904.12 Recording criteria for cases involving work-related musculoskeletal disorders.

(a) Basic requirement. If any of your employees experiences a recordable work-related musculoskeletal disorder (MSD), you must record it on the OSHA 300 Log by checking the "musculoskeletal disorder" column.

(b) Implementation. (1) What is a "musculoskeletal disorder" or MSD? MSDs are disorders of the muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage and spinal discs. MSDs DO NOT include disorders caused by slips, trips, falls, motor vehicle accidents, or other similar accidents. Examples of MSDs include: Carpal tunnel syndrome, Rotator cuff syndrome, De Quervain's disease, Trigger finger, Tarsal tunnel syndrome, Sciatica, Epicondylitis, Tendinitis, Raynaud’s phenomenon, Carpet layers knee, Herniated spinal disc, and Low back pain.

(2) How do I decide which MSDs to record? There are no special criteria for determining which MSDs to record. An MSD case is recorded using the same process you would use for any other injury or illness. If an MSD disorder is work-related, is a new case, and meets one or more of the general recording criteria, you must record the case as an MSD in the MSD column. The following table will guide you to the appropriate section of the rule for guidance on recording MSD cases.

(i) Determining if the MSD is work-related. See § 1904.5. (ii) Determining if the MSD is a new case. See § 1904.6. (iii) Determining if the MSD meets one or more of the general recording criteria:

(A) Days away from work, See §1904.7(b)(3); (B) Restricted work or transfer to another job, See § 1904.7(b)(4); or (C) Medical treatment beyond first aid. See § 1904.7(b)(5).

(3) If a work-related MSD case involves only subjective symptoms like pain or tingling, do I have to record it as an MSD? The symptoms of an MSD are treated the same way as symptoms for any other injury or illness. You must record the case on the OSHA 300 Log as an MSD if:

(i) An employee has pain, tingling, burning, numbness or any other subjective symptom of an MSD; (ii) The symptoms are work-related; (iii) The MSD is a new case; and (iv) The case meets one or more of the general recording criteria.

(4) When do I have to start recording work-related MSDs on the MSD column? You must begin recording work-related MSDs on the MSD column as of January 1, 2011. Google the Federal Register for January 29, 2010 for a full description of the proposal and MSD reporting criteria.