South Carolina Lawyer
Vol. 12, No. 5, Pg. 26.
An Introduction to the New OSHA Ergonomics Program Standard
26An Introduction to the New OSHA Ergonomics Program StandardBy Edwin G. Foulke Jr. and Robert M. WoodAfter years of disagreement with employers and Congress about the appropriateness of regulating cumulative trauma and musculoskeletal injuries, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) published the final rule for an Ergonomics Program Standard, 29 CFR 1910.900 (65 Fed. Reg. No. 220, p.68261) on November 14, 2000, exactly one week after the Presidential election. This new standard contains stringent regulations that will require most general industry employers to identify and abate musculoskel etal disorders (MSDs). These requirements have the potential for dramatic financial and administrative impact upon many employers.
A common criticism of the new standard is its potential for unfairly saddling employers with responsibility for MSDs that are not directly attributable to the job. Although the standard only applies to "work-related" disorders, an MSD can be deemed "work-related" even where circumstances outside the employer's control are significant contributing factors. This is one of the reasons the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, which supports ergonomic regulatory action, withdrew its support for the final rule.
There are critics who assert compliance with the standard may endanger the viability of many businesses. Such concerns motivated several industry groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to file suit to block implementation of the standard. On the other hand, the AFL-CIO and several unions, including the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the United Steelworkers and the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees-filed suit challenging the rule as too weak.
Despite the legal challenges, ern ployers would be ill advised to sit by idly in the hopes a successful court intervention will make the standard go away. By October 15, 2001, employers must have completed basic MSD training for all employees and be prepared to respond to employee reports of MSDs, MSD signs and symptoms, and MSD hazards within response times specified in the standard for each program element. Most of these response deadlines range from seven to 90 days. The state of readiness necessary to comply with the standard's deadlines is not something most employers will be able to achieve overnight. The following review will provide employers some insight into the task that awaits them.
The first thing employers must do is determine whether the rule applies to them. In most cases, it probably will. The standard applies to all general industry jobs. The only exclusions are for railroad operations and industries covered by OSHA's standards for construction, maritime, and agriculture.
DEFINING "MUSCULOSKELETAL DISORDER"
The standard defines an MSD as a disorder of the muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage, blood vessels or spinal discs affecting the neck, shoulder, elbow, forearm, wrist, hand, abdomen (hernia only), back, knee, ankle and foot. Excluded are injuries arising from slips, trips, falls, motor vehicle accidents or blunt trauma. Examples of MSDs include muscle strains and tears, ligament sprains, joint and tendon inflammation, pinched nerves and spinal disc