NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 18, 1997

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is gearing up again to issue a rule on monitoring and preventing injuries from repetitive work-related motions -- such as "repetitive stress syndrome." Republicans in Congress have blocked OSHA from writing such "ergonomic" rules because they're costly and the benefits are unclear.

But OSHA has come up with a report, prepared by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which claims 300,000 workers were affected by repetitive disorders last year. Passing it is a top goal of the nation's largest labor organization, the AFL-CIO.

A House appropriations subcommittee attached a rider to the Labor Department's fiscal 1998 spending bill on Tuesday that would prohibit the agency from crafting a rule until the National Academy of Sciences completes its own study of what is causing the injuries.

In the meantime, companies are studying the problem and taking steps.

  • Tyson Foods Inc. claims to have cut repetitive motion cases among its workers by 50 percent since 1989 -- through automation and better safety training.
  • Aetna Inc reported a drop of more than 60 percent in worker's compensation claims for such injuries after it began encouraging workers to report problems early.
  • Ford Motor Co. redesigned about 8,000 factory jobs to curtail risks -- including installing automated lifts to assist workers in handling heavy batteries.
  • So-called "repeated trauma" cases account for only about 4 percent of all injuries and illnesses in the workplace, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics, largely concentrated in such industries as meat packing, automobiles and poultry processing.

Overall, the number of "repeated trauma" cases has jumped in recent years, from about 37,000 in 1985 to about 308,000 in 1995.

Experts say that publicity has probably contributed to the upsurge in reported cases, although the number fell off slightly in 1995 after peaking the year before. Some suspect that off-time activities, such as sports, are the cause of some injuries which are being blamed on repetitive motion in the workplace.

Source: Laura M. Litvan, "Repetitive Regulation Syndrome," Investor's Business Daily, July 18, 1997.


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