Following is an ErgoNews article I wrote on January 5, 2002:
A coalition of business groups and other employers sued the state of Washington over new ergonomic rules designed to protect workers from injury. (1)
“This is clearly a case of a state agency abusing its power and pushing through a rule based on political agendas,” said Tom McCabe, president of the Building Industry Association of Washington. (1)
“Musculoskeletal disorders are believed to be a major cause of time lost from work and long-term disability. Payments for Workers’ Compensation claims for these disorders have risen rapidly.” (5)
“Because musculoskeletal pain is a major source of suffering, healthcare and utilization of compensation, there is a definite need for prevention.” (2)
“Research on risk factors indicates that although medical and workplace factors are obvious, psychosocial variables are central to the transition from acute to chronic pain. The early identification of ‘at risk’ patients is a key to allocating resources and initiating secondary prevention.” (2)
“If only we could prevent disability due to chronic pain from occurring, tremendous suffering and monumental costs would be saved. . .Yet, while disability consumes huge amounts of resources, only a small fraction of the amount of these sums is available to prevent chronic pain problems.” (2)
State officials contend the regulations are long overdue and could prevent thousands of injuries per year. The labor and industries department has no plans to rescind or revise the regulations, Director Gary Moore said.
One study done in April of 1969 by the Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory, Aerospace Medical Division, Air Force Systems Command, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, states:
“The body posture of sedentary workers, especially in offices, and of school children has long been a concern of orthopedists and physiologists. The increasing number of office positions, of seated factory workers, of people sitting in cars and airplanes, even of seated soldiers, has augmented the concern about ‘unhealthful’ sitting postures. Complaints about lower back pains are widespread among people who commonly work in the sitting position. Medical treatment of ailments thought to be connected with the sitting posture, sick leave taken by employees, and reduced work output highlight some of the economic aspects.” (3)
Businesses in industries that report the highest number of injuries must take steps to lower the risks by buying new equipment, repositioning existing equipment, and providing training on how to avoid injury (OSHA).
Major employer groups say the rules will cost them $725 million a year. The lawsuit also challenges the effectiveness of the ergonomic techniques spelled out in the rules. (1)
The Occupational Safety & Health Administration expects its workable, practical approach to prevent an average of 460,000 injuries annually and to save businesses $9.1 billion annually because of reduced workplace injuries and greater productivity; with a $27,700 savings in direct costs for each MSD prevented . . .90 percent of American workers are covered by the new OSHA regulation. (4)
FYI: Ergonomic regulations were passed during the Clinton Administration; but President Bush and Congress repealed them shortly thereafter.
Eugene Scalia, the Labor Department’s top lawyer, has called the regulations “quackery” and “junk science.”
According to Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer: “The most important question – how we can protect workers from these crippling injuries – is not even being asked.”
At a forum addressing workplace safety in July, 2001, Labor Secretary Chao stated: “We can choose to do one of two things starting today. . .We can play politics, or we can protect workers. We can engage in sideshows, or we can pursue safety.”
“Business Groups Sue Washington State, Say New Ergonomics Rules Place Burden on Employers,” written by Paul Queary.
“Prevention of Disability Due to Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain,” written by Steven James Linton.
“Ergonomics in the Design of Office Furniture,” written by E. H. Eberhard Kroemer, Dr. Ing., Joan C. Robinette, Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
“Is there Light at the End of the Carpal Tunnel?” written by Ann W. DeVoe, Esq., CBA Report.
American Journal of Industrial Medicine 19:87-107 (1991), “Workplace Ergonomic Factors and the Development of Musculoskeletal Disorders of the Neck and Upper Limbs: A Meta-analysis,” written by Susan Stock, M.D.