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April 04, 2005
Ergonomics Is Still A Hot Topic

Ergonomics may be more important than ever. When Congress killed OSHA's Ergonomics Standard in 2001, some people thought that interest in preventing work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) would also start to die. That prediction turned out to be wrong. If anything, the focus on MSDs and ergonomics has intensified on the part of business, labor, and OSHA. Why? Because all three have found that ergonomic measures for preventing MSDs actually pay off in terms of reducing worker injuries, lost work time, and insurance and medical costs. OSHA in particular has announced a four-point program for ergonomics that includes:

  • Guidelines for specific industries and tasks
  • Enforcement—even without a specific standard, OSHA will inspect for ergonomic hazards and issue citations under the General Duty Clause
  • Outreach and assistance, to help businesses address ergonomic issues
  • A National Advisory Committee on ergonomics to continue studying ways to apply ergonomics in the workplace

Tailor your training to employee needs and issues. There is no "one size fits all" way to approach ergonomics training, because types of MSDs and their causes vary so widely from industry to industry and even from task to task. Determine the types of training that are needed by reviewing health records and job analyses for evidence of MSD hazards. Then design and conduct training sessions that address these specific hazards—even if you have to hold different ergonomics sessions for employees in different job classifications.

Why It Matters...
  • Estimates of the costs associated with work-related MSDs range from $13 billion to $54 billion per year.
  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about one-third of all occupational injuries and illnesses are due to overexertion or repetitive motion.
  • Numerous case studies show that increased ergonomics-oriented awareness, training, and hazard reduction will reduce injuries, lost work time, and associated costs.

Employee involvement and feedback is key. Employees themselves are the only ones who really know the physical requirements of their jobs. Encourage them to talk about the tasks they must perform at their workstations and to do their own analysis of potential MSD hazards and how these might be alleviated. For example:

  • Have them discuss, and actually demonstrate, the types of actions they take that involve repetitive motions, impact, or awkward movements or positions,
  • If possible, show them different, less physically stressful ways to perform these tasks, or
  • Ask for their specific suggestions on new or different equipment, tools, furniture, and other engineering controls that might reduce MSD-related problems.
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