OSHA Following up on Ergonomic Letters

Since 2002, OSHA has sent approximately 440 ergonomic hazard alert letters to employers. According to an April 11 OSHA directive, the agency will be contacting those employers to see how much progress they have made in addressing the ergonomic hazards outlined in the letters.

As part of OSHA's “four-pronged” approach to ergonomics – comprised of industry-specific and task-specific guidelines; outreach; enforcement; and research – OSHA conducts ergonomics inspections and issues citations under the General Duty Clause. The agency has published voluntary ergonomic guidelines for nursing homes, retail grocery stores and the poultry industry.

The agency over the past several years has sent out ergonomic hazard alert letters to notify employers of ergonomic problems at their work sites. The April 11 directive to compliance officers “outlines a process for contacting employers to determine whether hazards and deficiencies identified in the letter have been addressed.”

“This directive applies to any inspection coded N-03 for which an ergonomic hazard alert letter has been issued, regardless of whether the inspection was initiated under an emphasis program, the Site Specific Targeting Program (SST) or was unprogrammed,” the directive says. “This directive is intended to apply only to [ergonomic hazard alert letters].”

Employers Must Respond Within 20 Working Days

According to the directive, OSHA compliance officers are to use the “current phone/fax process” to contact all employers that received an ergonomic hazard alert letter on or after April 1, 2002, and that have had the letter for at least 1 year.

During the initial phone/fax contact, OSHA compliance officers are to “determine what specific measures were taken by the employer in response to the [ergonomic hazard alert letter].”

Following the initial phone/fax contact, officers are to fax a copy of the original letter as well as a letter requesting:

  • Details of the employer's ergonomic control measures, including those recommended in the original hazard alert letter.
  • Copies of the employer's OSHA Form 300 since close of the original inspection that prompted the letter.
  • The estimated number of full-time employees or work hours for the exposed employees for the time period corresponding to the OSHA Form 300 information.

According to the OSHA directive, employers must respond within 20 working days of the initial contact. OSHA will evaluate those responses and assign the responses one of four categories: no response, inadequate response, on-the-right-track response or successful response.

The directive outlines procedures for making second contact with employers in the “no response” and “inadequate response” categories.

Unannounced Inspections

According to OSHA's Web site, the agency from Jan. 1, 2002, through March 31 conducted 3,681 ergonomics inspections in a variety of industries. Of these, 1,225 inspections were conducted from July 2002 through September 2003 in nursing and personal care facilities as part of a national emphasis program.

The April 11 directive calls for all follow-up inspections to be unannounced.

“The scope of the inspection will be limited to the ergonomic hazards identified in the original [ergonomic hazard alert letter], any conditions cited in the original inspection and any hazards in plain view,” the directive says.

According to OSHA's Web site, the agency has issued 17 General Duty Clause violations for ergonomic hazards, all of which have reached settlement.

To view the directive, click here.

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