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OSHA Issues Long-Awaited Ergonomics Proposal

November 22, 1999

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The Occupational Health and Safety Administration has issued a proposal for a long-awaited requirement that truckers and other companies establish comprehensive programs to protect workers from injuries.

The ergonomics rules target injuries attributed to repetitive motion, lifting objects or other work-related activities. OSHA says the rules are needed to reduce “musculoskeletal disorders” such as tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome and strained back.
Costs and benefits of the rules are in hot dispute. OSHA says these injuries cost employers up to $20 billion a year in workmen’s’ compensation and as much as $60 billion overall. It says the rule will cost employers $4.2 billion a year to implement.
Business interests, including American Trucking Assns., say the rules are unscientific and impossible to enforce, and would cost more than they would save. According to ATA, they would cost trucking $6.5 billion a year.
A recent study by the Small Business Administration found that OSHA’s estimate is much too low – from 2.5 to 15 times too low. And OSHA’s estimate of the benefits may be significantly overstated, SBA said.
Business has fought long and hard to keep OSHA from issuing this proposal. Earlier this year, the House passed a measure that would block the rules until the National Academy of Sciences completes a study that is due in 2001, but that plan did not survive the legislative process.
Now OSHA is looking for comments on the proposal, and expects to issue a final rule next year.
Here are the key points:
* The rules apply to manual handling jobs of the type that are common in trucking – moving freight across a dock, or delivering packages.
* The rules also apply whenever an employee reports a musculoskeletal disorder.
* A complete program includes six elements: management leadership and employee participation; hazard information and reporting; hazard analysis and control; training; musculoskeletal disorder management; and evaluation.
* All companies have to implement two elements – management leadership and employee participation, and hazard information and reporting – even if they have no disorders.
* If an employee reports a disorder, the other elements have to be implemented.
* A company can keep a program it already has, provided the program is acceptable to OSHA.
* Companies generally have to keep records for at least three years.
For more information, visit the OSHA web site at www.osha.gov. Or send comments by February 1, 2000, to the OSHA Docket Office, Docket No. S-777, U.S. Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Avenue, N.W., Room N-2625, Washington, DC 20210 (202 693-2350).

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