NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

OSHA'S "Voodoo Ergonomics" Standard

January 17, 2000

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) claims its proposed Ergonomics Standard will protect more than 27 million workers at 1.9 million work sites who are exposed to "ergonomic hazards" resulting in musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

MSDs are disorders of the muscles, tendons, joints, spinal disks, nerves, ligaments, and cartilage that result from ergonomics risk factors such as force, repetition, awkward postures, contact stress, vibration or cold temperatures.

  • OSHA estimates the rule will reduce lost workdays due to MSD injuries by half at a net cost of $4.2 billion per year and $155 per worker.
  • Other government-sponsored estimates put costs as high as 15 times OSHA's estimate -- at $63 billion or $2,300 per worker each year.

OSHA's justification is based on the "nearly 650,000 workers every year [who] suffer [MSD] injuries and illnesses," but reports of MSD have been steadily declining without regulations.

  • Between 1992 and 1997, repetitive motion injuries fell from 89,900 to 75,200 and overexertion injuries fell from 659,100 to 507,500.
  • The total number of MSD reports fell from 748,900 in 1992 to 582,700 occurrences in 1997
  • Most MSD injuries -- 87 percent -- fall into the overexertion category, with only 13 percent resulting from repetitive motion injuries.
  • In fact, less than 0.5 percent of the labor force are affected by MSD injuries.

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is assessing the scientific evidence; but OSHA has moved forward without waiting for the completion of the NAS study. Critics call OSHA's approach "voodoo ergonomics."

Source: Ron Bird and Jill Jenkins, "Ergonomics Regulation: Vague, Broad, and Costly," Policy Backgrounder, January 12, 2000, Employment Policy Foundation, 1015 15th Street, N.W., Suite 1200, Washington D.C. 20005, (202) 789-8685.


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