The proposal will spare an average of 300,000 workers from musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) each year and save nearly $9 billion annually, the agency claims. The standard would cover more than 27 million workers at 1.9 million sites about a third of general industry work sites throughout the country.
"This proposal includes some unique provisions to expand flexibility for employers, because one size doesn't fit all," OSHA Administrator Charles N. Jeffress said. "We've given employers a 'quick-fix' option and included a grandfather clause, both designed to limit what employers need to do, while effectively protecting workers. Three-quarters of general industry employers would not need to do anything until a documented, work-related injury actually occurs."
OSHA's "Quick Fix" is an alternative to setting up a full ergonomics program. If employers correct a hazard within 90 days and check to see that the fix works, no further action would be necessary. The grandfather clause would give credit to firms that already have effective ergonomics programs in place and are working to correct hazards.
Under the OSHA proposal, about 1.6 million employers would need to implement a basic ergonomics program by:
- Assigning someone to be responsible for ergonomics;
- Providing information to employees on the risk of injuries, signs and symptoms to watch for and the importance of reporting problems early; and
- Setting up a system for employers to report signs and symptoms.
The proposal identifies six elements for a full ergonomics program:
- Management leadership and employee participation;
- Hazard information and reporting;
- Job hazard analysis and control;
- MSD management; and
- Program evaluation.
OSHA intends that ergonomics programs be job-based, meaning a program would cover just the specific job where the risk of developing an MSD exists and jobs like it that expose other workers to the same hazard.
The standard would require that workers who experience covered MSDs receive a prompt response, evaluation of their injuries and follow-up by a health care professional, if necessary. A worker who needs time off the job to recover from the injury could get 90 percent of pay and 100 percent of benefits. Workers on light duty would receive full pay and benefits.
The provisions for time off and pay are designed to encourage early reporting to catch problems before they result in injuries. Strong evidence shows that employees are reluctant to report symptoms if doing so might cause them to miss work and reduce their paycheck, OSHA said.