CAL OSHA Ergonomics Standard:
Technically Sound or Politically Correct?

Student Papers, ISE 370 - Human Factors in Work Design - University of Southern California - Dr. Najm Meshkati, Professor



Papers 1-10

California Ergonomics Standard: Technically Sound, or Politically Correct?
Don Kennedy kennedy@scf.usc.edu

Those who support strict ergonomics standards in the workplace, as well as those who oppose the increasing dominance of government regulation upon free enterprise will both agree that the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board proposed ergonomics standard (Title 8, Section 5110) is technically unsound law. The so called "ergo-rule" is incomplete, ambiguous, and misguided--resulting from an outmoded philosophy of how to reform the workplace. Although the California ergo-rule is a noble attempt at improving the quality of the workplace for Californians, it will simply serve to further confiscate California business without reducing Cumulative Trauma Disorders (CTDs) or workplace injury.

CTDs are generally the result of four risk factors, including repetition, force, posture, and the absence of rest. The California ergo-rule only addresses one of these risk factors--repetition, as evinced by the title of the legislation, "General Industry Safety Orders, Section 5110, Repetitive Motion Injuries (Ergonomics)"[1] According to Rani Lueder, President of Humanics ErgoSystems, Inc., "The restriction to repetition is unacceptable. As I have testified at CAL/OSHA standards hearings, a substantial body of research dating from the 1960s indicates that constrained and prolonged awkward postures significantly increase the risk of discomfort, back disorders, and CTDs. Further, these [other] risk factors may be as important as or more important than repetition."[2] Steve Lohr, writing in the New York Times, says that, "Labor organizations, to be sure, are not pleased with the California standard. They say that recommendations made by an earlier panel of experts were eliminated by the state's Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board..."[3] Without provisions for the other three risk factors, how can one expect the ergo-rule to reduce the growing number of CTDs in the California workplace?

As recorded by the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, the California Office of Administrative Law (OAL) states that the ergo rule, "fails to satisfy the Clarity standard of Government Code Section 11349.1" and needs to be "easily understandable to those who are directly affected by it."[4] The OAL identified seven areas as "problematic," generally outlining portions of the law that are ambiguous or unclear. One of the most controversial measures of the standard involves the definition of, "identical work activity" as it relates to identifying a Repetitive Motion Injury (RMI). Steve Lohr cites the possibility that, "...people with the same jobs often engage in somewhat different activities," suggesting that variability within the same job tasks are inherently incompatible with the standard's requirement to objectively identify an RMI.[5] In the same article, Lohr quotes Tom Rankin, President of the California A.F.L.-C.I.O. as saying that the standard is, "difficult to enforce and ineffective." Is not the goal of the proposed standard to effectively reduce and eliminate RMIs where possible?

Imposing the California ergonomics regulation on business is as absurd as mandating the adoption of a Total Quality Management (TQM) philosophy. Just as with TQM, management's desire to adopt ergonomics safety programs in their companies must come from the evolution of corporate culture. Although resisted for decades, quality philosophies from those like Deming, were accepted after business saw the benefit of such management practice. Ergonomics is no different. Companies like Intel and L.L. Bean have adopted their own ergonomics programs to combat costly workplace injuries. Intel reduced, "the number of lost or restricted work days attributed to repetitive motion injuries... by 30 percent from the year before," while L.L. Bean, "has reduced its number of lost-time claims from musculoskeletal disorders by 50 percent."[6] Not only is the adoption of ergonomics in the workplace demonstrative of a good corporate citizen, it is good business as well.

Bottom line: The CAL OSHA Ergonomics Standard is technically unsound because of its ignorance of the three other CTD risk factors aside from repetitive motion. California business needs education toward reducing exposure to these four risk factors, not further regulation to exacerbate the adversarial role between government and free enterprise. Simply put, any ergonomic improvement in the California workplace must take place much like the quality revolution--with business convinced that change will result in healthier workers, more efficient workplaces, and lower costs from reduced injury claims.



1. State of California-Department of Industrial Relations; Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board; General Industry Safety Order, Section 5110
2. Lueder, Rani. Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Bulletin, Volume 39, Number 12, December 1996
3. Lohr, Steve. "California Approves First Law on Repetitive Motion Injuries" New York Times; November 11, 1996; p.11.
4. Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Bulletin, Volume 40, Number 2, February 1997
5. Lohr, Steve. "California Approves First Law on Repetitive Motion Injuries" New York Times; November 11, 1996; p.11.
6. Lohr, Steve. "Waving Goodbye To Ergonomics" New York Times; April 16, 1995; p.1.


 

California Ergonomic Standards: Technically Sound or Politically Correct
Brent Lesjak lesjak@scf.usc.edu

The California OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) Standards Board has recently approved new legislation on ergonomic standards. The legislation (Section 5110) was adopted to reduce RMI (Repetition Motion Injuries) which is a growing problem in this country. The occurrence of RMI is up 80 percent since 1990 (Lohr). The problem is that the new legislation only concentrates on one factor that contributes to RMI, repetition, and it contains many loopholes. This leaves the door open for companies to "skirt" the issue of RMI related injuries and it allows them to work on ways to circumvent the statute rather then improving the work environment. According to Michael Porter, the C. Roland Christensen Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, "Businesses spend too many of their environmental dollars on fighting regulation and not enough on finding real solutions." It seems that OSHA's "legislation rhetoric" has good intentions but intentions alone do not solve the problem.

Section 5110 states that a job will be investigated only if two or more workers at the same workplace develop RMI by performing identical tasks. "Identical" is very exclusionary and makes it nearly impossible to define a case where the standard will apply. To illustrate this point a workplace where one employee is injured by repetitious sanding and another employee from repetitious waxing will not be affected by the standard. Although the two employees are performing the same repetitious motions, the jobs are different, and thus the standard does not apply (Lueder). Clearly, this leaves a large gray area as to what is identical since the standard does not define "identical" and it seems to be left up to the employer's discretion.

RMI is caused by a number of factors including force, awkward positions, static postures, vibration, cold, and repetition. Section 5110 only concentrates on the factor of repetition. The problem is that it ignores the other contributors to RMI. Research has been conducted on the contributors to RMI and found that:
1) Awkward posture significantly increases the risk of discomfort, back disorders, and CTD (Cumulative Trauma Disorder).
2) Awkward positioning and other factors may be as or more important than repetition.
3) CTD's are found in high numbers in the presence of the other factors despite low levels of repetition (Lueder).
Concentrating on repetition alone ignores the other factors; this is like concentrating on outlawing cars to prevent drunks from driving. The roots of the problem need to be addressed and not just one "branch."

OSHA legislation is attacking RMI in the wrong direction. They are trying pass another piece of legislation that "tells" companies how to do business. They are missing the most obvious point. Companies do not want to be told what to do, just as we do not. Companies want to know how to make the greatest margin. OSHA needs to recognize this and educate companies that sound ergonomics save money. They not only promote innovation but also reduce litigation costs and demonstrate a company's good intentions (Levaux).

Legislation is a great tool for protecting employees from harms out of their realm of control or knowledge. In addition, legislation can promote companies to innovate and find better, more cost-effective ways to do business (Porter). This enriches the company and offers better protection for the employee in the working environment. But, this legislation must be complete, comprehensive, and root out all of the causes contributing to the problem.

I believe another aspect that needs to be addressed is the policy of punishing companies for not adhering to these regulations. I am not saying that we should not punish companies that do not follow the law, I am only saying that we need to adopt legislation that rewards companies for improving safety. This proactive approach will accomplish a great deal more than the current reactive style. The idea of Adam Smith's "invisible hand" applies to the regulation of companies as well.



SOURCES:
Levaux, Janet Purdy. "Avoiding Costly Repetitive Stress Lawsuits." Investor's Business Daily. 3/30/95.
Lueder, Rani. "Commentary." Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Bulletin. 12/96.
Lohr, Steve. "A Compromise Plan..." New York Times. 4/8/96.
Porter, Michael E. and Claas van der Linde. "Green and Competitive." Harvard Business Review. 9-10/95.


 

California Ergonomic Standards: Technically Sound or Politically Correct?
Tim Lai qlai@scf.usc.edu

Without a doubt, the recently passed California ergonomic standards were designed with the intentions of being more politically correct than technically sound. The main points in the law are very broad, difficult to enforce, and ineffective. I think this law was rushed for political purposes to show that California has taken the initiative in protecting it's workers.

The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been busy in recent years in developing ergonomic standards to deal with the growing problem of repetitive motion injuries (RMIs) in the workplace. On November 14, 1996, Section 5110 titled "Repetitive Motion Injuries" was approved as the nation's first such law addressing the problem of RMIs. Section 5110 requires employers to provide injured workers with special training to alter their work routines and to change their work stations or tools, if necessary. This is only put into effect after at least two workers who perform "identical" tasks are shown to have similar injuries within a year. The diagnosis of a RMI shall be performed only by a licensed physician who must indicate that over 50% of the injuries were caused by a repetitive job, process, or operation of "identical" work activity. Companies with 9 or fewer employees are exempt from this regulation.

There are many unclear things with this law. First, risk factors that contribute to repetitive motion injuries are force, repetition, posture, and not enough rest. All of these factors combined contribute to RMIs. To single out repetition as the only risk factor is very misinforming to the people and ignores the other risk factors that occur constantly in the workplace. If this new law is designed to protect workers from RMIs, then it should cover all the risk factors that have been studied throughout the years to better educate people about the unknown dangers they face everyday at work.

This law is put into effect after two people who perform "identical" tasks suffer similar injuries within a year. It is very seldom that people who have the same jobs perform identical tasks. People with the same jobs usually get involved in many things which are "similar" but may not be "identical". Thus, people who perform similar tasks would not fall under this category of the law. Because of this, it may be very difficult to enforce this new standard and we may not see any reduction in the number of RMIs.

Lastly this law doesn't do justice in it's attempt to set a standard across all industries. There are different working conditions and risk factors in each industry that need to be addressed separately. According to the National Coalition on Ergonomics, "research on repetitive stress injuries points to many possible causes, and thus does not justify an industrywide standard."

As you can see, there are many points about this law that make it untechnically sound. However, this new California standard has been aimed to be very politically correct. There has always been resistance from business lobbyists, conservative Republicans in Congress to prevent OSHA from developing ergonomic standards to protect workers. However, after a ruling on Oct. 1, 1996, OSHA no longer faces Congressional prohibitions in its efforts to develop ergonomic standards.

Evidence of this pressure from the Republican party can be seen by earlier recommendations that were eliminated by the state's Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board. The five members in this board were appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson, a pro-business Republican. These earlier recommendations called for the ergonomic standards to apply when injured workers did "substantially similar activity" as compared to "identical" activity that the new regulations stipulate. As stated before, this new regulation doesn't do much good and is hard to enforce because people with the same jobs often get involved in somewhat different activities. So basically, recommendations that would have made it a more effective and easier to enforce law were dropped in favor of recommendations that will not have an impact on reducing RMIs. Which brings up the question, why pass a law that is not going to do anything. The answer? To have California stand out as the state that took charge in it's effort to protect workers. Well, it's already had effect on some people across the nation, "At least a major state now has a law on the books that recognizes the problem and that something should be done about it."

Pro business groups say that the study on ergonomics and relationships between risk factors and injuries are still in it's early stages. "Precise links between workplace activities and RMIs have not yet been established." Members of the California board point to this unestablished science as the reason for it's limited standard. If it is widely accepted that the study on ergonomics is still in its early stages, then why not hold off on introducing a law until precise cause and effect relationships between workplace activities and injuries have been established? That way, both employers and employees will agree and not question the validity of these relationships.

The new regulations also state that employers with 9 or less employees are exempt from these ergonomic standards. Without regulation, many jobs in small businesses are more hazardous than ones in large companies which are regulated to protect it's workers. The percentage of repetitive injuries may be much higher in small businesses but go unnoticed because their workers are uneducated about risk factors in the workplace and thus do not report these injuries. Future ergonomic regulations should address the problems that exist in all business and not just the large ones. Preventing injuries in small businesses can be more cost effective than the costs that will incur as a result of medical injury claims.

Companies should be required to implement an ergonomics program to improve workstations and tools, and educate workers about the risks that lead to RMIs regardless of whether there has been a history of injuries there. A lot of injuries can be prevented if companies are mandated by regulatory agencies such as CAL OSHA to have an ergonomics program. As Rani Lueder, President of Humanics ErgoSystems, Inc. said, "We don't install fire extinguishers only in those buildings that have had fires."

With Congressional prohibitions out of the way, the study of ergonomics and implementation of standards can progress more thoroughly. When more cause and effect relationships between workplace activities and injuries have been established, California or the national OSHA can implement new regulations that are more precise and easier to enforce. Rather than try to be politically correct, California's Occupational Safety and Health Administration Standards Board should reexamine Section 5110 for it's effectiveness and postpone these standards until more knowledge is known. It's great when a major state such as California makes a statement and shows support for workers, but when a major state implements a law that is inefffective, it sends a wrong message to everyone nationally, hinders the study on ergonomics and misinforms people about risk factors they are exposed to everyday in the workplace.



 

California Ergonomics Standards: Technically Sound or Politically Correct?
Raul Lepe

The need for ergonomics in the workplace has been recognized for many years. This is evident in the presence of Federal OSHA, as well as, certain regional divisions, such as Cal-OSHA. OSHA is the acronym for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, with Cal-OSHA being the division specifically devoted to California. Recently, the Cal-OSHA Standards Board approved an ergonomics regulation. Although this regulation may have begun as an ergonomics regulation, by the time it was passed it most certainly was not. As a result of the tedious law making policy, the regulation was revised, or perhaps a better term would be whittled-down, to the point that its passing was much more an effort to be politically correct than it was to be technologically sound.

This fragmented regulation was so brutally "revised" that its title had to be changed. No longer is the regulation entitled "ergonomics"; rather, its new title is "repetitive motion injuries". The changing of the title of the regulation itself explains one problem with the regulation. The recently adopted standard is extremely limited. The standard states, " This standard shall apply to a job, process, operation, or identical work activity at the workplace where repetitive motion occurs." This limited applicability presents a problem where occupational safety is concerned.

This problem is dual-faceted. While repetitive motion is widely recognized as a cause of cumulative trauma disorders in the workplace, it is hardly the only cause of such disorders. By restricting the regulation to repetitive motion, the many other causes of cumulative trauma disorders are ignored. These other causes are force, awkward handling or positioning of tools, static postures, and workplace temperatures (cold). The other part of this problem is that cumulative trauma disorder is not the only problem an employee may encounter on the job. The most serious danger posed to employees in the workplace is posed in the one-time injury or accident. While cumulative trauma disorders may be painful, they are rarely fatal or permanently crippling. Although not common, fatality or the rendering of an employee to a physically handicapped state due to an accident in the workplace is much more frequent than such due to cumulative trauma disorder.

The other major problem with this regulation is its emphasis on injuries. Such an emphasis creates a reactive stance. This is not a technologically sound practice. A truly effective regulation would be preventative, not reactive. In order for a regulation to be preventative, its emphasis would have to be on risk factors on the job, not injuries occurring on the job. This preventative stance would save many employees from potentially avoidable pain and suffering.

In addition to this skewed stance, the regulation is rather inexact. The new standard requires that a musculoskeletal injury be diagnosed by a licensed physician, who accredits at least 50% of the injury to the repetitive job or process. Such a standard requires the following assumptions: 1) CTDs are consistently subject to objective diagnosis 2) the extent to which an injury is due to the repetitive motion in question is determinable 3) doctors can be relied upon to be completely objective. Anytime assumptions are made in the effective application of a rule, such effective application is subject to a degree of uncertainty. With so many problems, it seems as though this regulation will have little impact on industry in the state of California. Thus, rather than a regulation that can be viewed as technologically sound, it is apparent that the passing of this regulation was an act of political correctness made to pacify the zealous, yet less knowledgeable proponents of ergonomics in the workplace.



Sources of Reference
Albin, Thomas J., "California Adopts Ergo Rule", Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Bulletin Vol. 39 Num. 12, Dec. 1996.
Leuder, Rani, "California Adopts Ergo Rule", Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Bulletin Vol. 39 Num. 12, Dec. 1996.
"General Industry Safety Orders: Sec. 5110", Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board.


 

CAL OSHA Ergonomics Standard - Technically Sound or Politically Correct?
Naman Aggarwal naggarwa@scf.usc.edu

Using a free consultation service largely funded by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employers can find out about potential hazards at their worksites, improve their occupational safety and health management systems, and even qualify for a one-year exemption from routine OSHA inspections. This one of the many "services" provided by OSHA to help in preservation of health and safety precautions and elimination of potential hazards in the workplace. Even though OSHA may seem like one of the most altruistic organizations on the planet, there are still several drawbacks associated with its services and method of conducting business.

Firstly, a visit from OSHA can raise concerns that are perfectly justified due to the negative press on citations and fines and because of the increased number of programs OSHA requires. There are many factors investigated parties have to be aware of because there are small clauses in the OSHA guidelines that could pose a serious threat if not paid attention to. For e.g. - You have several rights as an employer and corporate "person". If you admit an OSHA inspector into your facility and act as a cooperative businessperson, you have waived a number of those rights. Waiver means that you cannot recover those rights. If you do not ask for a warrant, you have committed yourself to a "voluntary" inspection. This, in a sense, is an infringement on the businessperson's rights, and sometimes people could get misled. Even though this entire process structure may seem OSHA tends to take on the role of the police investigating corporate shortcomings, while they should be actually helping, advising, and checking businesses and helping them correct any problems they might have with safety and health issues.

There are key instances when OSHA has tended to be overtly politically correct, while not paying attention to some basic details - e.g. in the anti-smoking goals. OSHA's proposal in March 1994 focused on "preventing thousands of heart diseases and deaths, hundreds of lung cancer deaths and the respiratory diseases and other ailments linked to these hazards." These ideas seem lofty and absolutely politically correct, but being a part of a government organization there is a lot of government bureaucracy and consequently the initiative has fallen from the "Washington priority list". There is no denying that OSHA's plans are scientifically and technically proficient, but that doesn't mean that they are the "holy" organization they make themselves out to be. Many people consider the smoking laws over-stringent, and they don't take into account several economic considerations, which could have a greater negative effect than the tobacco health hazards when, weighed equally. OSHA rules will cost full-service restaurants $13.4 billion a year, and another $4.8 billion to the bars and taverns.

OSHA has continuously been coming out with new strategies and rules, all of which have undergone various researches and investment before being actually implemented. Therefore, OSHA is very close, if not exactly technically correct. But, being a government organization, and having a bureaucratic structure, and increased awareness among the public causes OSHA to become this "godly" organization which takes political correctness to a whole different level. It definitely is a boon to the workforce of this country, but at times could interfere with functioning of businesses and become a problem rather than just the consultation and help that they provide. OSHA should restructure its strategy and focus more on the people and solving problems rather than on how people will perceive them in the business world.



 

Cal OSHA Ergonomics Standard Technically Sound or Politically Correct?
Jamie Hernandez jaimeh@scf.usc.edu

The ergonomics standard proposed be Cal OSHA has been debated on as to whether this new regulations has the impact that the people in favor want it to have, namely help reduce the amount of work related injuries that are associated with repetitive motions. Whether this regulation is going to be just another way to force rules on business and whether it is even reasonable to enforce that the people against it want to prove as well. The ergonomics standard is a regulation which would require businesses of ten or more people to pass Cal OSHA inspections as to whether the repetitive motions that are required of the employed are reduced and that there are measures to help alleviate the number of repetitive motions done by an employee. The standard is currently trying to be passed by Cal OSHA, but has met resistance as the legislature, courts, and business have had some problems with the ergonomics standard.

The people for the ergonomic standard have been arguing that the work force in America is becoming injured to the lack of sensitivity the government and business have when it come to Repetitive Motion Injuries (RMI)and other work related illnesses. It has been quoted that 60 percent of work-related injuries have been due to RMI and people are trying to say that there needs to be something done to alleviate this problem. Repetitive motion causing injury as the employee is constantly straining and using the same muscles which causes ligaments and cartilage to wear down and after a long period of time causes the employees to become sick and not able to function as there is no way for them to continue to work. These people feel that the standard is not broad enough to cover all of the Cumulative Trauma Disorders that also exist out there and so it is not a very good regulation. The fact that it only covers RMI doesn't address another very large percentage of the work-related injuries that are out there.

The businesses argue that although these injuries are happening there can be more that one cause for these injuries and that RMI injuries may not be entirely caused by the work that the employee is doing. Ergonomics is still an inexact science and businesses fell that there is not enough hard concrete evidence to make laws and regulations that they feel will be detrimental to their business. Businesses are concerned with RMI injuries, but some feel that they shouldn't be forced by an outside force to take actions that involve RMI injuries and that they should be allowed to handle these problems in their own way. The businesses feel that this regulation is just another rule meant to disrupt the normal operations of their business and is seen as somewhat unnecessary by some businesses.

The government has not passed the standard as some of the concepts that are covered in the regulations are not entirely clear and may be very hard to enforce. Some of these concepts involve how long a task is repeated per hour to make it a repetitive motion and whether a person must be at the same workstation at all time to constitute it as repetitive motion or whether changing workstations also means that an entirely new task has been undertaken by the employee. The regulation also is unclear as to who or what agency has the expertise to make decisions on what constitutes repetitive motion and how the regulation is enforced and what actions would take place thereafter. The standard has been shown to be unclear and not useful as a regulation as it is vague as to what constitutes a failure to comply and the motions themselves as well.

The one thing that is agreed upon by all of the people involved or interested in this new ergonomics standard is that it is not a very good law or regulation. The standard has been seeking approval since 1995 and has been killed, overruled, or rewritten many times during this time and looks to be along the same path in the immediate future.



 

California Ergonomics Standard: Technically Sound or Politically Correct?
Fong Sai Yuk ngchen@scf.usc.edu

In order to discuss whether the California Ergonomics Standard(CES) are politically correct or technically sound, one first needs to describe these standards. "The CES requires employers to provide injured workers with special training, to alter their work routines and to change their work stations or tools, if necessary. But the standard does not apply to companies with fewer than 10 employees. And it is only put into effect after at least two workers who perform identical tasks are shown to have similar injuries within a year." (Lohr, Steve; New York Times, Nov.11, 1996, p.11). These are very narrow criteria for the application of these standards.

The CES had their beginnings in 1993 and, at that time, the criteria were broader. The new regulations identified injuries from "substantially similar" rather than "identical activities." Occupational health professionals said that even the jobs were identical, workers engage in moderately different activities.

The information provided above enable one to consider whether the CES are politically correct or technically sound. In regard to the technically soundness of the CES, Lohr notes that the science behind ergonomics is uncertain. Thus, there is an insufficient basis to develop technically sound standards. However, as ergonomics is studied further, it becomes more possible to develop technically sound standards.

Since the standards are written in a confined way, it will most likely not cause a change in reducing workers' injuries then, one can conclude that their function is not necessarily to prevent injuries but, rather, to make a politically correct statement. By having such standards, OSHA can appear to carry out its mission: "to save lives, prevent injuries and protect the health of America's workers. Though, in reality, due to the uncertain science behind ergonomics and the narrow criteria of the standards, the CES do not promote OSHA's mission. The CES are merely a politically correct, public relations ploy.

What makes the most sense at this point in our understanding of ergonomics, is to develop training programs which can help workers who engage in respectives tasks. In addition, some common sense measure, such as allowing 5 to 10 minute rest breaks every hour, would go a long way toward preventing injuries.



 

California Ergonomic Standards: Technically sound or Politically Correct?
Ivan Seto iseto@scf.usc.edu

CalOsha an abbreviation for California Occupational Safety and Health Administration had a regulation approved on November 16, 1996 that is supposed to help prevent injuries that are due to work related repetitive motion injuries. I am going to discuss why I believe that this regulation is geared more for politics than it is geared towards being technically sound or towards its supposed goal of reducing the number of work related injuries. The regulation almost had to be politically geared or else it would never have gotten approved due to some strict opposition from pro-business republicans.

There have been fears as to what these new regulations will do to the costs of running a company and there are fears that these regulations will hurt the business industry since higher costs of running the company will mean higher prices which means that the companies will not be able to be as competitive as before. People that are pro-business who want to see the business industry thrive and don't want to see the business industry suffer are opposed to these regulations. What they don't see is that with these regulations there will come cost savings due to higher efficiency and output of employees as well as save the companies a lot of money due to the reduced amount of work related injuries. In the recent years there has been an alarming increase in the number of work related injuries reported, in 1987 ten out of 10,000 full time workers reported ailments due to repetitive motion by 1993 that number had nearly quadrupled. On September 19, 1995 CalOsha had submitted an original proposal which did not pass and after time submitted a second version which was later accepted. The first proposal had been rejected by a board with five members having been appointed by pro-business republican governor Pete Wilson. The second proposal that was eventually approved was a much weaker version of the first with the "enforcement difficulty" being the only thing that was strengthened. Now instead of having the rules apply to those workers that did a "substantially similar activity" it now states that the task must be an "identical" activity in order to apply the rules of the regulation. The new regulations also state that the rules only apply to those companies of more than 10 employees and deal only with those injuries that are caused by repetitive motion and not with any of the equally important or lesser causes of ergonomic related injury. A licensed physician now must conclude that fifty percent of the Repetitive Motion Injury was caused by a repetitive job or an identical job. All of these changes to the regulations make the areas where you can apply the regulation become narrower and stricter making it increasingly difficult to reduce the number of reported work related injuries which seemed to me to be the whole point of the CalOsha regulation in the first place. There is no doubting that the intentions of the CalOsha board were good but there seems to be too much resistance in congress to get anything passed that will not get severely altered on its way through. When the regulation was sent through the first time it was sent back saying that " it fails to satisfy the Clarity standard of Government Code Section 11349.1"(pg.2 HFES Bulletin Feb 1997) there were also comments on the other "failures" of the regulation. So it seems to me that no matter how technically sound the regulation is congress will find a way to alter it in there favor and make the proposal more politically geared than it is geared towards stopping ergonomic work related injuries.

References
1. HFES Bulletin February 1997
2. HFES Bulletin December 1996
3. NYT Nov. 11, 1996
4. NYT April 16, 1995



 

California Ergonomics Standards: Technically Sound or Politically Incorrect?
Faith Cromwell

In early November of last year, California regulators approved the state's first law addressing the increasing nation-wide ergonomics problem. On January 2, the California Office of Administrative Law rejected the rule and returned it to the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (OSHA) for further clarification (1,3). This recent activity in the nation's largest state has revived the Federal ergonomics standard debate between the liberals and conservatives.

House Republicans have described OSHA "as a place where swarms of inspectors swooped down to intimidate innocent merchants, professionals, and manufacturers, where bureaucrats drown businesses in paperwork and are more interested in imposing fines than ensuring safety" (4). They feel that the business owners have upheld their obligations to follow the federal and state regulations promoting a safe setting for employees; there is no need to employ greedy inspectors to ensure this maintains. Ironically, the business world doesn't appear to have placed safety at the top of their priority lists, either. The delivery service has been lobbying to rid OSHA of regulations dealing with cumulative stress disorders from repetitive motion or lifting. Cumulative trauma disorders (CTD) such as carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) and back strain from any restrictions is the region construction and trucking industries would like to free. The iron and steel businesses have also been pushing to loosen the regulations by lobbying against the maintenance of records of work-related illnesses, such as hearing loss (4). All of these disorders that these industries have been struggling so desperately to omit from regulation can be classified under the realm of ergonomics.

Ergonomic disorders are the most rapidly growing reported work related illnesses in the industry today which amounts to billions of dollars that businesses need to pay out each year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) claims that the number of this type of disorder has more than tripled since 1984 (2) and studies have shown that this data is grossly underestimated. One such study has even suggested that figures could possibly be 130% higher than what BLS has reported! Ergonomic disorders account for 30-40% worker compensation claims. In 1984, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons estimated that $27 billion each year was the total dollar loss due to lost wages and medical expenses from all repetitive motion disorders. OSHA deems that its new set of regulations could save these business owners $9.6 billion per annum (5).

Without new regulations, it appears these ergonomic disorders will not simply go away. Cases of Cumulative Trauma Disorders (CTD's) increased by 10% from 1993 (302,400) to 1994 (332,000). In 1994, this disorder also accounted for approximately 5% of the United State's 6.8 million nonfatal injuries and illnesses (4.5% in 1993). Nearly 25% (8-9 million) of the total workforce was affected was the estimate of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in 1989. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) has been inflating at a rate of 20% annually in the United States with conservative estimates at 23,000 per annum. Experts feel that this figure is underestimated and place the figure up to 10 times what has been reported. It has been estimated that for the state of California, the costs for CTS could be as high as $250 million per year (5 ).

It appears that these industries are more interested in saving money than preserving the health of the employees. They aren't even accomplishing their goal! The best method to save money from these disorders is to provide a safe working environment. The workers will not have reason to get these disorders and thus, will have little reason to collect worker's compensation and lost earnings due to ergonomics will not be a factor. The inspectors will have no need to give fines if the company is ergonomically sound = any improper fine will be easy to refute.

Maintaining a safe working environment should be the top priority of all involved. The businesses should never place money in front of the safety of the employees, nor should the inspectors be overly anxious to hand out fines. If the inspectors are too generous with the fines, lobby for new inspectors = not to omit the standards.



(1) "California Ergo Rule Stalled," Human Factors Engineering Society Bulletin. February, 1997.
(2) Department of Labor. Federal Register. Ergonomic Safety and Health Management, 1992.
(3) Lohr, Steve. "California Approves First Law On Repetitive Motion Injuries," New York Times. Nov. 11, 1996.
(4) Maraniss, David and Michael Weisskopf. Tell Newt to Shut Up! Simon & Schuster, 1996.
(5) Meshkati, Najmedin. Human Factors in Work Design lecture. University of Southern California, Feb. 25, 1997.


 

CAL OSHA Ergonomics Standard: Technically Sound or Politically Correct?
Daniel Tripathi tripathi@scf.usc.edu

California is going to be the first state to implement a work place ergonomics standard ( Title 8, Chapter 4, Section 5110 of the state Labor Code) . The rule will cover employers with 10 workers or more. Compliance requirements are triggered in workplaces where at least two employees with identical tasks suffer repetitive motion injuries during a 12-month period (Occupation Hazards Jan 1997). The major reason why this standard is politically correct and not technically sound is that there is no scientific evidence on the subject. The most important question that has not been scientifically proven is at what thresholds do Cumulative Trauma Disorders occur. This unfortunately has not been researched for many activities (Kroemer '92). So the question is how do you make a standard when the limits are unknown. Ms. Dorothy L. Strunk who use to be acting director of OSHA and now is a consultant for U.P.S. said "there is just no evidence in which to base a Government standard." (Drew, DEC '95, Maraniss and Weisskopf '96) She in fact, in 1992, initiated OSHA's work on the ergonomics standard (Drew, DEC '95).

There are two major complaints with the rule. "It's not strong at all on prevention - which is where the emphasis should be," said Keith Mestrich, assistant director of safety and health for the AFL-CIO (Occupation Hazards Jan 1997). The Coalition for Common Sense complained that the Cal/OSHA rule could force employers to "Spend billions of dollars to make experimental changes that no one can assure us will prevent a single illness or injury." (Occupation Hazards Jan 1997) Both of these points are valid and give support to the fact that the rule is politically correct.

Who carries out the standard? Without a checklist that has been scientifically proven, how can companies reduce CTD's (cumulative trauma disorder). In order for this standard to be accurate companies would have to employ human factors and ergonomic specialists to over see every aspect of their operation. This is not a viable solution for most small businesses. So a check list that is scientifically proven must be developed.

OSHA on a federal level has had a budget restrictions on an ergonomics standard which just expired in October of 1996. There just hasn't been enough research done. Even if the information was available that is no guarantee that the standard would reflect the findings. In fact David Rosner, author of Dying for Work: Workers Safety and Health in 20th Century America (Indiana University Press, 1987), said, "My perspective [on rule-making] is that process is geared toward no action. Even when the hazard is known and there is little dispute about methods of prevention, OSHA's deliberates is a response to the politics of the illness, not the science or danger of the illness."

CTD's occur because of a series of micro traumas that accumulate over time and cause discernible health complaints and reduce the ability to perform related work (Kroemer '92). There are definitely ways to reduce CTD's which include the following: 1) Avoid job activities with many repetitions, 2) Avoid activities with extreme force 3) Avoid extreme positions, maintain good posture, 4) rest, 5) avoid prolonged use of vibrating tools 6) avoid extreme cold. These are useful guide lines but unfortunately they are vague.

The major question is how much is too much? "For example, rest pauses (such as 10 min every hour) are thought to be beneficial:...Are 10,000 keystrokes done over a period of 3 hr followed by 5 hr of rest less or more conducive to CTD than the same 10,000 keystrokes evenly distributed over a working time of 8hr." (Kroemer '92). Simple questions like these must be answered before Cal/OSHA can hold companies liable for disobeying standards.

Research must be conducted to determine limits. Also studies must be conducted to understand how events cause CTD's then and only then will we be able to establish threshold values and dosage limits(Kroemer '92). Without hard data there should not be a standard where Cal/OSHA can fine companies.


Bibliography
CTDNews. 1997. LRP Publications. 6(3).
Drew. C., 1995. In the Productivity Push, How Much Is Too Much?. New York Times. DEC. 17, 1995.
Kroemer. K., 1992. Avoiding Trauma Disorders in Shops and Offices. American Industrial Hygiene Association Journal. (53) September 1992: 596-604.
Maraniss. D., Weisskopf. M., "Tell Newt to Shut Up!". 1996. Simon & Schuster. Occupation Hazards. 1997. California Adopts Standard. Jan 1997. 59(1).
Rosner. D., 1987. Dying for Work: Workers Safety and Health in 20th Century America. Indiana. University Press.

 

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