OSHA: What You Need to Know


By:  Ken Zans

OSHA and Ergonomics: A Short History

Musculoskeletal injuries represent one-third of the injuries American workers experience every year.

In the early 90's, OSHA began focusing on reducing the number of injuries in the workplace by targeting certain industries known to have ergonomic hazards. The meatpacking industry was heavily targeted and OSHA published the first of its guidelines entitled, OSHA Publication 3123:  Ergonomic Program Management Guidelines for Meat Packing Plants. Utilizing the "Meatpacking Guidelines", OSHA targeted industries such as poultry processing, garment, canning, and commercial baking.  Citations were issued, fines were negotiated and paid, abatements and improvements were made by these employers, all without a defined OSHA standard.

In the mid-90's, OSHA attempted the passage of a standard for ergonomics. Many felt the legislation was too vague, impossible to enforce, and would require great expense to be in compliance.

The controversy continued until Congress passed and President Bush signed the Senate Joint Resolution 6, which rescinded the ergonomics rule and under the Congressional Review Act, prohibited the agency from issuing a rule that is "substantially the same as the former one." The ergonomic standard was dead, and likely any that would follow.

OSHA Doesn't Need a Standard

In response, OSHA refocused its efforts with the development of ergonomic guidelines and stronger use of the General Duty Clause, Sect. 5. (a)(1.) This clause from the OSHA Act is utilized to cite serious hazards where no specific OSHA standard exists.  Under the General Duty Clause, OSHA needs only to prove that the employer knew the ergonomic hazard existed; it failed to provide a safe workplace; the recognized hazard is harmful; and there are feasible means of correction.

Although the General Duty Clause is a powerful enforcement tool, OSHA recognizes that ergonomics is very difficult to regulate.  Last year, OSHA announced a new four-pronged approach including industry-specific guidelines, enforcement through the General Duty Clause, outreach and assistance programs, and research.

Is OSHA Going to Knock on My Door?

If you are in a small group of targeted industries and ergonomic hazards exist in your workplace that are contributing to injury, you are expected to have a successful ergonomics program in place. OSHA is likely to contact you.

What about small- to medium-sized businesses not in these categories?
OSHA will likely not contact you unless it has a reason to do so. Remember, as an employer, you are responsible for providing a workplace free of hazards that are likely to cause harm to your employees. If your injury and illness incidence rate is considerably higher than your industry's average, or your insurance modifier reflects increased medical costs, you could be a candidate for inspection, no matter what size your company is.

By:  Ken Zans

© 2015 Alliance Training and Consulting, Inc.



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