This course is designed to help both the employer and the employee understand the benefits of following the General Guidelines of Ergonomic Program Standards.

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is proposing an ergonomics program standard to address the significant risk of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) confronting employees in various jobs in general industry workplaces. General industry employers covered by the standard would be required to establish an ergonomics program containing some or all of the elements typical of successful ergonomics programs: management leadership and employee participation, job hazard analysis nd control, hazard information and reporting, training, MSD management, and program evaluation, depending on the types of jobs in their workplace and whether a musculoskeletal disorder covered by the standard has occurred. The proposed standard would require all general industry employers whose employees perform manufacturing or manual handling jobs to implement a basic ergonomics program in those jobs. The basic program includes the following elements: management leadership and employee participation, and hazard information and reporting. If an employee in a manufacturing or manual handling job experiences an OSHA-recordable MSD that is additionally determined by the employer to be covered by the proposed standard, the employer would be required to implement the full ergonomics program for that job and all other jobs in the establishment involving the same physical work activities. The full program includes, in addition to the elements in the basic program, a hazard analysis of the job; the implementation of engineering, work practice, or administrative controls to eliminate or substantially reduce the hazards identified in that job; training the employees in that job and their supervisors; and the provision of MSD management, including, where appropriate, temporary work restrictions and access to a health care provider or other professional if a covered MSD occurs. General industry employers whose employees work in jobs other than manual handling or manufacturing and experience an MSD that is determined by the employer to be covered by the standard would also be required by the proposed rule to implement an ergonomics program for those jobs.

The Need for an Ergonomics Standard

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) currently account for one-third of all occupational injuries and illnesses reported to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) by employers every year. These disorders thus constitute the largest job-related injury and illness problem in the United States today. In 1997, employers reported a total of 626,000 lost workday MSDs to the BLS, and these disorders accounted for $1 of every $3 spent for workers’ compensation in that year. Employers pay more than $15-$20 billion in workers’ compensation costs for these disorders every year, and other expenses associated with MSDs may increase this total to $45-$54 billion a year. Workers with severe MSDs can face permanent disability that prevents them from returning to their jobs or handling simple, everyday tasks like combing their hair, picking up a baby, or pushing a shopping cart. Thousands of companies have taken action to address and prevent these problems. OSHA estimates that 50 percent of all employees but only 28 percent of all workplaces in general industry are already protected by an ergonomics program, because their employers have voluntarily elected to implement an ergonomics program. (The disparity in these estimates shows that most large companies, who employ the majority of the workforce, already have these programs, and that smaller employers have not yet implemented them.) OSHA believes that the proposed standard is needed to bring this protection to the remaining employees in general industry workplaces who are at significant risk of incurring a work-related musculoskeletal disorder but are currently without ergonomics programs.

The Science Supporting the Standard

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A substantial body of scientific evidence supports OSHA’s effort to provide workers with ergonomic protection (see the Health Effects, Preliminary Risk Assessment, and Significance of Risk sections of this preamble, below). This evidence strongly supports two basic conclusions: (1) There is a positive relationship between work-related musculoskeletal disorders and workplace risk factors, and (2) ergonomics programs and specific ergonomic interventions can reduce these injuries.

For example, the National Research Council/National Academy of Sciences found a clear relationship between musculoskeletal disorders and work and between ergonomic interventions and a decrease in such disorders. According to the Academy, “Research clearly demonstrates that specific interventions can reduce the reported rate of musculoskeletal disorders for workers who perform high-risk tasks” (Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders: The Research Base, ISBN 0-309-06327-2 (1998)). A scientific review of hundreds of peer-reviewed studies involving workers with MSDs by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) also supports this conclusion.

The evidence, which is comprised of peer-reviewed epidemiological, biomechanical and pathophysiological studies as well as other published evidence, includes:

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  • More than 2,000 articles on work-related MSDs and workplace risk factors;
  • A 1998 study by the National Research Council/National Academy of Sciences on work-related MSDs;
  • A critical review by NIOSH of more than 600 epidemiological studies (1997);
    • A 1997 General Accounting Office report of companies with ergonomics programs; and
  • Hundreds of published “success stories” from companies with ergonomics programs;
  • Taken together, this evidence indicates that:
  • High levels of exposure to ergonomic risk factors on the job lead to an increased incidence of work-related MSDs;
  • Reducing these exposures reduces the incidence and severity of work-related MSDs;
  • Work-related MSDs are preventable; and
  • Ergonomics programs have demonstrated effectiveness in reducing risk, decreasing exposure and protecting workers against work-related MSDs.