OSHA Advisory Committee Considers New Ergo Guidelines

A workgroup of the National Advisory Committee on Ergonomics (NACE) has established criteria to identify industry groups that should receive new OSHA industry-specific ergonomic guidelines.

A second workgroup advanced plans to hold a symposium on gaps in ergonomics research at NACE's next meeting in January.

The workgroups reported on their work to the full committee at a meeting held Sept. 24 in Arlington, Va.

Final recommendations on new industry-specific ergonomic guidelines are expected early next year, pending requests for additional five-year injury trend data from OSHA. The agency is not bound to follow NACE's advice.

The five industries tentatively chosen for ergonomic guidelines using the workgroup's paradigm are:

  • Air Transport;
  • Hospitals;
  • Trucking and Courier;
  • Groceries and Related Products Wholesale;
  • Motor Vehicle Equipment and Car Bodies.

The workgroup, relying on data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, balanced two criteria in selecting these industries. The panel first identified a group of 19 industries with the highest incidence rates of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) resulting in days away from work. The industries all had rates above 57.5 employees per 10,000 workers.

The second criterion identified industries with the largest number of people affected by MSDs. Although the nursing home, retail grocery and poultry industries turned up on the initial list of 19, the workgroup eliminated them from consideration, as OSHA is preparing, or has already completed work on guidelines for these industries.

In a possibly minor ironic twist, the poultry processing industry turned up in last place according to the workgroup's criteria, which means poultry processors had the lowest incidence rates and the fewest number of injured workers among the 19 industry groups. The shipyard industry, also selected by OSHA for ergonomic guidelines, did not show up on the workgroup's list at all.

In an interview after the meeting, Edward Bernacki, M.D., director of the division of occupational medicine at Johns Hopkins University and a member of NACE's research workgroup, explained the thinking behind the planned symposium.

"We're trying to get at why some companies are reluctant to invest in ergonomic corrections in the workplace," said Bernacki. "There is not much controversy that interventions work, but it hasn't been proven that they are cost-effective."

He added that the symposium is intended to stimulate discussion and promote advances in research that will help fill in this gap.

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