OSHA Withdraws Proposed MSD Column on Injury/Illness Logs

On Jan. 25, OSHA announced that it has temporarily withdrawn its proposal to restore a column for work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) on employer injury and illness logs, citing concerns from small businesses. Some safety stakeholders, however, expressed disappointment over the withdrawal.

The proposed rule would not change existing requirements about when and under what circumstances employers must record MSDs on their injury and illness logs. While many employers currently are required to keep a record of workplace injuries and illnesses, including work-related MSDs, the vast majority of small businesses are not required to keep such records. The proposed rule would require those employers already mandated to keep injury and illness records, and to record MSDs, to place a check mark in the new column for all MSDs.

“If we want to reduce workers’ comp costs, and if we want to control accidents and injuries before they happen, we have to be more proactive. One of the ways to be proactive is to identify ergonomic risk factors in the workplace before they happen,” Cynthia Roth, founder and CEO of Ergonomics Technologies Corp., told EHS Today. “It makes no sense not to have more metrics to understand where the injuries are coming from and how to control them, which is the only way to manage them.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, MSDs accounted for 28 percent of all reported workplace injuries and illnesses requiring time away from work in 2009.

“Ergonomics injuries, especially as we begin to age, are the most prevalent as well as the most costly,” Roth added. “By being reactive, we are hurting people, hurting profits and ultimately hurting our economy. We could drive new jobs if businesses could be more profitable.”

Roth stressed that small and large businesses alike, as well as employees, would benefit from this proposal and that “politics has no business in safety.”

OSHA Seeks Input

“Work-related musculoskeletal disorders remain the leading cause of workplace injury and illness in this country, and this proposal is an effort to assist employers and OSHA in better identifying problems in workplaces,” said OSHA Administrator Dr. David Michaels. “However, it is clear that the proposal has raised concern among small businesses, so OSHA is facilitating an active dialogue between the agency and the small business community.”

Prior to 2001, OSHA’s injury and illness logs contained a column for repetitive trauma disorders that included noise and many kinds of MSDs. In 2001, OSHA separated noise and MSDs into two columns, but the MSD column was deleted in 2003 before the provision became effective. This proposal would restore the MSD column to the Form 300.

The agency intends to seek greater input from small businesses, particularly through outreach in partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy, on the proposal.

OSHA and the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy jointly will hold a meeting to engage and listen to small businesses about the agency’s proposal. Small businesses from around the country will be able to participate through electronic means, such as telephone and/or a Web forum. Details of the meeting will be announced within 30 days. OSHA also will conduct a stakeholder meeting with other members of the public if requested.

Public Citizen “Mystified” by Withdrawal

Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization, expressed disappointment in this decision, stating, “OSHA fully understands the need for this rule.”

“We are mystified by today's announcement that [OSHA] is suspending its proposed rule to restore a tracking mechanism for work-related musculoskeletal disorders on employer injury and illness logs,” said Alex Chasick, policy council for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division.

“It is hardly asking too much to require employers to check a box indicating that a work-related injury is a musculoskeletal disorder.”

Chasick added that the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) had previously delayed the rule by its review. “Now this rule is being improperly subjected to a small business review panel. Neither of these additional review procedures is appropriate for a rule with such a small economic impact,” he said.

Mallon: An Unfortunate Delay

James Mallon, CPE, vice president of Humantech, called OSHA’s decision to withdraw the proposal “an unfortunate delay for something that does nothing but supports businesses and helps them make better business decisions.”

“I feel that any change in recordkeeping which assists employers better understand the scope, scale and nature of the injuries and associated costs they experience is just sound business practice,” he told EHS Today. “In my view, the proposed change – which is essentially making a checkmark in a column – can do nothing but help businesses make better decisions on how to reduce those injuries and ultimately eliminate the conditions and practices which hurt workers and hinder their businesses.”

Mallon recognized that businesses may view the MSD column as “ammunition to justify regulations regarding ergonomics” and that it’s wise for OSHA to listen to concerns. He added, however, that a misunderstanding of how ergonomics can benefit business may be at the root of many concerns.

“I don't think many business leaders truly understand the practice of ergonomics engineering,” he said. “Some believe it to be only about cost and injury avoidance, rather than an opportunity to create work environments, equipment, tools and processes that enable people to work better.”

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