OSHA Proposes Ergonomics Program Standards

In February 1999, OSHA announced plans to adopt an Ergonomic Program Standard (EPS) that will affect many businesses with manufacturing and manual handling jobs. You may view the working draft of the forthcoming EPS (Proposed 29 C.F.R Section 1910.500 et seq.) on the Internet. OSHA's draft is a first attempt at establishing the scope of the EPS. A final rule on EPS is expected in late 1999 or early 2000.

The EPS would apply to employers of workers in manufacturing operations, manual handling jobs and any other jobs where Workplace Muscoloskeltal Diseases ("WMSDs") are reported. "Manufacturing operations" are production jobs that are performed in manufacturing industries and which constitute a significant part of the employee's regular job duties, e.g., assembly line jobs, piece work assembly jobs and meat cutting/packing jobs. "Manual handling" operations include jobs that involve lifting, pushing or carrying substantial loads as a significant part of an employee's job duties.

The EPS will apply to a job not involving manufacturing operations or manual handling operations if injuries from that job are recordable on OSHA 200 logs and a significant part of injured employees' job duties expose them to WMSD hazards. Maritime, construction and agricultural activities are specifically exempted from the EPS in OHSA's current draft.

In the OSHA proposal, employers covered by the EPS will be required to establish ergonomic programs which address problem jobs and establish feasible permanent controls to eliminate WMSDs. These programs must contain six specific components.

  1. The management leadership and employee participation component requires an employer to assign responsibility to qualified employees to manage its ergonomics program and to deal promptly with WMSDs and WMSD hazards. Employees must have access to information regarding the employer's ergonomics program and be able to report freely WMSDs and WMSD hazards. The employees must also be allowed to become involved in developing, implementing and evaluating job hazard analysis and control, training and determining the effectiveness of the program and control measures.
  2. The hazard identification and information component requires an employer to identify WMSDs and WMSD hazards through review of health and safety records and to investigate WMSD hazards.
  3. The job hazard analysis and control component requires the employer to evaluate jobs with WMSD hazards and implement measures to eliminate or control those hazards. The employer must interview employees in jobs where WMSD hazards exist to determine if they are experiencing signs of WMSDs, whether they have difficulties performing the work activities of the job due to WMSDs and which aspects of the job are associated with the WMSDs. The employer must also observe employees to identify and evaluate factors that may be contributing to the WMSDs. If WMSD-related factors are present, the employer must implement feasible control measures and track their progress in controlling the hazards. The employer also must identify new hazards when work processes change. Engineering controls, work practice controls and administrative controls are all options for managing WMSDs. Personal protective equipment is permissible as an interim control, but only so long as it is provided at no cost to the employee.
  4. The training component of the EPS requires the employer to provide a periodic ergonomics training program. The employer must train employees in problem jobs (or similar jobs) and train supervisors as to WMSD hazards which exist in their specific jobs, how to recognize WMSD signs and symptoms, how to report signs, symptoms and hazards, establish job specific controls aimed at reducing WMSD hazards, and identify work practices which have been implemented to reduce WMSD hazards. The training must also include the requirements of the EPS. Employees with problem jobs and their supervisors must be trained when the program is first implemented, when they are initially assigned to problem jobs, after new control measures are implemented and at least every three years thereafter.
  5. The medical management component requires an employer to provide employees with prompt access to health care professionals to evaluate and treat WMSDs. The employer must inform the health care provider about the employee's job and hazards associated with that job. The employer also must provide the health care provider with descriptions of available changes to jobs, a copy of the EPS and the opportunity to conduct a workplace walk-through. The employee is entitled to a written opinion from the health care provider containing information regarding work-related medical conditions related to the WMSD and recommended workplace restrictions. The employer must adhere to the work restrictions the health care professional has recommended. The employer also must ensure that the health care professional follows up with the employee during the recovery period. Work restrictions must be continued until the employee has recovered and returned to the job, effective measures are implemented to control WMSD hazards, there is a medical determination that the employee is permanently unable to return to the job or six months have passed. While work restrictions are in place, the employer must maintain the employee's normal earnings, benefits, seniority and rights subject to certain offsetting earnings and benefits from insurance, workers' compensation, etc.
  6. The program evaluation component requires the employer to evaluate its ergonomics program and hazard controls at least every three years. The employer must establish baselines for measuring future effectiveness of the program and select "effectiveness measures" to evaluate the program's effectiveness in reducing or eliminating WMSDs. Finally, the employer must assure that all elements of the ergonomics program are functional. Any deficiencies in the program must be reported to OSHA promptly.

Only the medical management portion of the EPS must be established when the regulation becomes effective. The other components are to be phased in over three years.

Employers will comply with the EPS if they:

  1. promptly act on employee reports of WMSDs to determine if medical management is necessary;
  2. promptly identify and analyze WMSD hazards and develop a control plan;
  3. measure success in eliminating or reducing WMSDs; and
  4. continue to work on resolving problem jobs and implementing feasible alternatives in the elements causing WMSD hazards.
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