OSHA Enacts New Workplace Standards
An average of 300,000 workers can be spared each year from painful and potentially disabling injuries, and $9 billion can be saved, under an ergonomics program enacted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The program went into effect on January 16, 2001. “Ergonomics is the science of fitting the job to the worker,” explains M. W., M.D., medical director of OccNet, the occupational health service of the Health Alliance.
Each year, 1.8 million U.S. workers experience a work-related musculoskeletal disorder (MSD), such as injuries from overexertion or repetitive motion. “About one-third of these injuries are serious enough to require time off work,” says Dr. W. Work-related MSDs cost $15-$20 billion in workers’ compensation costs each year, about one third of total workers’ compensation costs.
The OSHA ergonomics standard relies on an approach that reflects industry “best practices” and focuses on jobs where problems are severe and solutions are well understood. It requires general industry employers to address ergonomics for manual labor or manufacturing production jobs, as well as other positions where employees experience work-related MSDs.
Today, fewer than 30 percent of general industry employers have effective ergonomics programs in place, but OSHA hopes to improve participation. Under the OSHA proposal, about 1.6 million employers will need to implement a basic ergonomics program. A full program would be required only if one or more work-related MSDs actually occurred.
The proposal also offers a “quick fix” alternative to setting up a full ergonomics program and a grandfather clause that gives credit to firms that already have effective ergonomics programs in place.
Most employers will incur only minimal costs to be in compliance, OSHA maintains. However, many businesses are opposed to the standard. Even without the rules, “We believe it makes sense for businesses to adopt ergonomically sound practices in the workplace,” says Dr. W. “Each time a MSD is prevented, the company will save $22,500 in direct costs. The average cost of fixing a workstation is $150.
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