An Ergo Standard
UE News, December 1999
On Nov. 22, after a ten-year fight against fierce employer
opposition, federal OSHA has finally released its proposed Ergonomics
Standard! This is still only a proposed standard. OSHA has to hold public
hearings on the standard and make revisions following the hearings. It expects
to issue a final, enforceable standard by the end of next year (2000), not
long before the Clinton Administration leaves office.
During this period we can expect no-holds-barred employer
opposition to continue, aided by their congressional allies. They don’t want
to see this standard become law, even with its obvious limitations and limited
worker coverage. Labor and its allies will have to fight hard to protect what
is good about the proposed standard and expand its coverage to all affected
WHO IS COVERED?
As proposed by OSHA, the Ergonomics Standard (CFR 1910.900)
will apply to all manufacturing and manual handling operations. This means
that in manufacturing companies, assembly-line workers, inspectors
(testers, weighers, etc.), machine operators and machine loaders and unloaders
will ordinarily be covered. Not usually covered in these manufacturing
plants are administrative and clerical jobs, janitorial and maintenance jobs,
supervisors, technical and professional jobs, security guards, cafeteria
workers and sales and marketing employees.
Manual handling operations include patient-handling jobs
(nursing aides, orderlies, etc.), hand packing and packaging, package sorting,
handling and delivery, stock handling and bagging and grocery store bagging,
as well as garbage collecting. Not usually covered are administrative
and clerical jobs, technical and clerical jobs and jobs which involve only
infrequent, "as needed" or emergency lifting.
However, either in manufacturing or material handling
operations, which jobs are covered and which are not must be determined based
on an examination of actual physical work conditions and work
activities. Whichever jobs are covered, all manufacturing or
material handling facilities must have an ergonomics program as part of this
BUT, if you are not in such a facility, your company or firm
will not be covered by the standard unless one or more work-related musculoskeletal
disorders (MSD) is reported and recorded. This means that office
workers, who may spend all day working at their computers, are not
automatically covered by the standard. Nor are workers in all other
non-manufacturing general industry facilities, unless a work-related MSD is
reported and recorded. Thus many affected UE members, as well as many other
workers, would not be covered by this standard.
This provision (that a company must develop and implement a
plan if an MSD is reported and recorded in the OSHA log) is an invitation to
companies to put pressure on workers not to report their injuries. Can’t
you see an office manager begging, cajoling or threatening an office worker
not to report his or her injuries? And if there is no union at the plant, how
can a worker protect his or her job after reporting an MSD? (Also, even in a
union shop after a worker reports, the union needs to make sure that the
report is recorded in the OSHA log.) This provision alone makes the proposed
OSHA Ergonomics Standard only half a standard — good for those it covers,
but almost useless for those it doesn’t.
WHAT IS REQUIRED?
OSHA requires the following elements in any employer
— Establish a system to report and respond to signs and symptoms of
— Worker access to information about the program, and input in
developing, implementing and evaluating all program elements.
Job Hazard Analysis Controls
— Employers must uncover and eliminate or reduce all ergonomic hazards.
— Provide initial and then periodic training to all affected employees
(at least once every three years).
— Provide access to a health-care professional for injured workers and maintain
workers’ pay while on work restrictions.
Program Evaluation and Review
— At least every three years.
For further details on the standard, go to the OSHA
More than 600,000 workers in the United States suffer lost
workday MSDs every year. These account for over one-third of all lost
workday injuries and illnesses annually in the United States.
We need a strong, effective OSHA Ergonomics Standard, one
which protects all affected workers, not just those in manufacturing and
Hearings will be held: Feb. 22- March 17, 2000 in
Washington, D.C.; April 11-21, 2000 in Chicago; and in Portland, Ore. March
If your local or district would like to testify, OSHA must
be informed by Jan. 24, 2000. You’ll find the address at the OSHA WebSite:
www.osha.gov. Or you may fax a statement
for the record to 202-693-1648 by Feb. 1, 2000.
Employers will be out in force to attack the standard. We
need to defend and extend it.