March 6, 2001
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration's new ergonomics standard took effect Jan. 16, 2001. Starting in October, almost all employers with 10 or more employees will be required to educate workers about MSDs, or musculoskeletal disorders. But nobody knows quite what they are.
- According to OSHA, MSDs include any "disorder of the muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage, blood vessels, or spinal discs" not caused by "trips, falls, vehicle accidents, or similar accidents" -- that is, any chronic ailment.
- A "work related" MSD is one where working conditions "caused or contributed to an MSD or significantly aggravated a pre-existing MSD."
- The employer must hire a health care provider to help determine if an MSD is work-related; but the provider is forbidden to reveal any non-work-related contributory factors it may uncover.
- On Oct. 14, says OSHA, "employers must begin receiving and responding to employee reports of musculoskeletal (MSK) signs and symptoms," whether work-related or not.
Then the employer -- or his full-time ergonomist -- will determine if a complainant's job exceeds one or more of 12 "action triggers" by studying whether the job involves repetitive or stressful motions.
If there is more than one "MSD incident" in 18 months -- which is highly likely -- the employer must then institute a comprehensive ergonomics program. And for workers who lose time due to MSDs, employers must replace wages up to 90 days.
Opponents of the rule say ergonomics is simply the study of increasing productivity by making work stations more comfortable. It was never designed or intended to be used to prevent injuries, and no scientific studies have shown otherwise.
Meanwhile, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that ergonomics complaints have declined every year since 1994. But for an estimated cost of $125 billion year, this OSHA rule will fix that.
Source: Tama Starr (CEO, Artkraft Strauss), "Getting Older? The Government Says Blame Your Boss," Wall Street Journal, March 6, 2001.
For text (requires WSJ subscription)
Browse more articles on Government Issues