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Two Cheers
For Half
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 workers.


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 standard.

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.


OSHA requires the following elements in any employer ergonomics program:

  • Management Leadership — Establish a system to report and respond to signs and symptoms of these disorders.

  • Employee Participation — 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.

  • Worker Training — Provide initial and then periodic training to all affected employees (at least once every three years).

  • MSD Management — 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 WebSite

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 manual handling.

Hearings will be held: Feb. 22- March 17, 2000 in Washington, D.C.; April 11-21, 2000 in Chicago; and in Portland, Ore. March 21-31, 2000.

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: 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.

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