Ergonomics Regulations in the United States

On January 29, 2010, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Labor proposed changes to occupational injury and illness recording and reporting practices. OSHA is proposing to revise its Occupational Injury and Illness Recording and Reporting (Recordkeeping) regulation to restore a column to the OSHA 300 Log that employers would use to record work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSD). The 2001 Recordkeeping final regulation included an MSD column, but the requirement was deleted before the regulation became effective. This proposed rule would require employers to place a check mark in the MSD column, instead of the column they currently mark, if a case is an MSD that meets the Recordkeeping regulation’s general recording requirements. Final comments were to be submitted by March 15, 2010. See the announcement here: http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=FEDERAL_REGISTER&p_id=21314

This is could be one of several signs that employers will face new ergonomics regulations in the coming years. In a look back, Federal ergonomic-related regulations were implemented in 2000, but were repealed in 2001. Since then, the General Duty Clause of the Act OSHA has been used to site ergonomic issues.

Existing Regulations

Two of OSHA’s 26 state occupational safety and health programs—California and Washington—have adopted state ergonomics standards. The Washington ergonomics standard was subsequently repealed in 2003. Employers in California are required to comply with the specific provisions of the state’s ergonomics standard. In addition, three other states have had discussions on the subject.

Some examples of state plan ergonomics efforts.

California adopted an ergonomics standard on November 14, 1996 (see www.dir.ca.gov/title8/5110.html). The standard provides that when at least two employees performing identical tasks have been diagnosed by a physician with repetitive motion injuries (RMIs) within 12 consecutive months, the employer must establish a program that shall:

  • Evaluate each job, process, or operation of identical activity for exposures which have caused RMIs at the affected work site
  • Control or minimize to the extent feasible the exposures that have caused repetitive motion injuries, considering engineering controls and administrative controls
  • Provide training to affected employees

California OSHA conducts inspections as well as outreach activities and has developed publications and training materials concerning ergonomics (available at www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/puborder.asp).

Washington adopted an ergonomics standard on May 26, 2000, but it was repealed December 2003. With the repeal, Washington is concentrating on educating workers and employers on the importance of preventing ergonomic injuries and proper techniques they can use. Enforcement issues are currently being addressed on a case-by-case basis.

Alaska held public meetings statewide in January 2002 on a draft standard for general safety and health programs, which included ergonomics; however, due to the number of comments received, the Commissioner of Labor decided to drop the ergonomics provisions and later discontinued efforts to develop a safety and health programs rule.

Minnesota has established an Ergonomics Task Force to recommend approaches the state can take to reduce work-related musculoskeletal disorders. (For more information on this task force, see http://www.positivelyminnesota.com/Business/PDfs/Employers_Guide_to_Employment_Law_Issues_in_Minnesota/09_Safety_Health_Environmental_Issues.pdf)

Oregon OSHA’s strategic plan includes activities designed to reduce musculoskeletal injuries through outreach and the use of voluntary services. (For more information see http://www.orosha.org/subjects/ergonomics.html.) Oregon has also created an ergonomics stakeholder group to identify strategies to promote reduction of ergonomic injuries in targeted industries with high rates of musculoskeletal injuries. In addition, Oregon’s OSHA offers a variety of ergonomics-related services including conferences, on-site training, educational resources, and consultation services to help Oregon employers.

Future Regulations

So do the proposed changes to Record keeping signal coming ergonomic regulations … it would appear so. Stay tuned.

Steve Thompson is president of Aspen Risk Management Group and ERGOhealthy. Contact Steve at: 619-294-9863 or www.ergohealthy.com, or www.aspenrmg.com

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