NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

No Ergonomic Evidence

March 1, 1999

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration's proposed workplace rule governing repetitive motion is a solution in search of a problem, many experts have concluded. Since OSHA came out with the rule on February 19, 1999, the lack of scientific evidence behind it has been frequently commented on.

  • The California Orthopedic Association opposed a proposed state ergonomics rule on the ground that "no convincing scientific studies... show that repetitive strain injury exists."
  • The American Society of Hand Surgery told OSHA that "current medical literature does not... establish a causal relationship between specific work activities and the development of well-recognized disease entities."
  • Even OSHA's research arm -- the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health -- concedes that the cause of back pain rarely can be identified.
  • In a recent embarrassing loss, a judge used the Supreme Court's junk science test to throw out testimony by OSHA's ergonomics expert witnesses -- and in numerous civil suits, federal judges have barred testimony by ergonomists, who are not medical doctors.

Nevertheless, the agency's proposed rule would regulate the pace of work, the number of workers assigned to tasks and the number and duration of employee rest periods.

Individual companies have estimated the costs of compliance in the hundreds of millions of dollars -- and the rule's total cost would easily run into the billions, experts warn.

Source: Eugene Scalia, "A New Federal Mandate: Don't Work Too Hard," Wall Street Journal, March 1, 1999.


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