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 11-20

California Ergonomics Standard: Technically Sound or Politically Correct?
Hasan Poonawala

On November 14th, 1996 the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration Standards Board approved an ergonomics regulation - the Section 5110, with the newly revised title of "Repetitive Motion Injuries" from "Ergonomics". The proposed standard states, "This standard shall apply to a job, process, or operation of identical work activity at the workplace where repetitive motion injuries(RMIs) occurs.". This statement justifies the politically correct renaming of the title, since it only focuses injuries caused due to RMIs, while other known risk factors associated with cumulative trauma like awkward position, force, static postures, vibration and cold are ignored.

In an attempt to make the standard less abstract and avoid future loopholes, it was revised from the previous proposals to the extent that only a licensed physician may certify that the employee has an RMI(and for definition purpose, the physician must indicate that 50% or more of the injury was caused by the repetition). Now if there was a machine or any kind of diagnostic procedure that could measure the extent of this injury in a quantitative manner, then maybe the above statement would apply. Unfortunately since there is no such machine or procedure, all the doctors will have to provide with objective and reliable evaluations at all times. This could work in an idealistic world, but realistically speaking it is unlikely that all the doctors would have the exact same opinion about the same injury. Thus, leading us back to square one where an attempt was made to clear the ambiguity.

Like in all cases there are exemptions, in this case the employers with 9 or fewer employees are exempt from this regulation. In response to this, Rani Lueder, President of the Humanics ErgoSystems, Inc. has this to say, " This exemption is blatantly political. Why should small business be any less accountable for on-the-job injuries? Jobs in small businesses are often hazardous and lack the safeguards commonly implemented by large companies." (Bulletin, Pg. 3). Prevention is better then cure, is the cliché that has been thrown off the wall more times then needed, but still holds a significant meaning in this case. With a little investment to make the workplace more ergonomic and training programs for employees to avoid future cumulative traumas, could save loss of employees and expensive lawsuits. "Rather than exempting small business from Cal/OSHA's standard, the onus should be on the Standards Board to provide reasonable minimum guidelines", is the suggestion of Rani Lueder (Bulletin, Pg. 3).

The Section 5110 even though not perfect, is at least a step forward to help people(workers and employers) realize the importance of ergonomics and its effects. Hopefully as time goes on the advent of better machines and tool design will eventually help reduce this problem that almost each one of us has faced some time or another.

http:/ - Article 106.Ergonomics. Repetitive Motion Injuries
Human Factors and Ergonomics Society: Bulletin - Volume 39 Number 12, December 96


CALOSHA Ergonomics Standard: Technically Sound or Politically Correct?
Chandra Suwandi

CALOSHA stands for California Occupational Safety and Health Administration. They are working in the development of safety and health management standard that would address ergonomics hazards in the workplace for the general industries or specific industries within general industries, as well as for maritime, construction, and agriculture industries.

The road to an OSHA ergonomics standard is a long and treacherous one, obstructed by congressional agendas, political interests, government bureaucracy, rumors and good intentions. The OSHA ergonomic has received many public attention and it will attract a great deal more in time. As said in the Federal Register part V by the Department of Labor, OSHA is defining ergonomics disorders as disorders of the musculoskeletal and nervous systems occurring in either the upper or lower extremities, including backs which may be caused by repetitive motions, forceful exertions, vibration, sustained or awkward positioning of the hand, wrist, arm, back, neck, shoulder, and leg over extended periods or from other ergonomic stressors.

Most ergonomic hazards and related disorders, however, appear to be due to changes in production processes and technologies, resulting in more specialized tasks with increased repetitions and higher assembly line speeds.

The California standard requires employers to provide injured workers with special training to alter their work routines and to change their work stations or tools, if necessary.

The major states, like California now has a law on the books that recognizes the problem and that something should be done about it, said Peg Seminario, the director of the department of occupational safety and health for the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial organizations in Washington. But on the other hand the labor organizations are not pleased with the California standard. They say recommendations made by earlier panel of experts were eliminated by the state's Occupational Safety and Health Standards Boards. The California Standard Board has adopted Section 5110, which says that all California employers are currently required by law in Labor Code Section 3203 to investigate occupational injuries and illnesses in order to identify hazards, to correct unsafe or unhealthy hazardous conditions, and to train employees regarding hazards. This section also specifies a course of action in the limited case for injuries that meet the specified criteria for diagnosis and causation.

Therefore in conclusion, from the explanation above, I would say that the CALOSHA Ergonomics Standard would be both technically sound and politically correct. It is politically correct since it is required by law now. On the other hand it just depends on how people judge on them.


Cal OSHA Ergonomics Standard: Did It Solve Anything Or Simply Confuse People?"
Jim Wells

Reading Section 5110, I was troubled by the ergonomic standards which the committee felt were appropriate for today's industry in the state of California. They failed to write any litigation which would help companies make any sense of ergonomic disorders, which are the most rapidly growing category of reported work-related injuries, according to OSHA. It only further undermined people's conceptions of what cumulative trauma disorders really are. Further their statements covered this issue without really getting to the heart of the matter. I feel an issue of this importance deserves a much more thorough description and regulation base. The standards should educate companies about ergonomics and entice them to derive innovative solutions to their ergonomic problems.

By addressing this problem as a repetitive motion injury which take place solely in repetitive jobs, the committee has limited the range of activities which can cause cumulative trauma disorders inappropriately. They failed to point out that these types of injuries can take place in other very typical work activities, such as those that require lifting and those with vibration factors. By focusing on repetition they will cause companies to solely look at addressing cumulative trauma in the area of repetition, which could account for only a small fraction of these disorders. Another flaw in their standard was how they designated that the signs of it should be prevalent in more than one employee. This infers that the only way cumulative trauma disorder would exist were if it occurred in a group of people. This will overlook specialized jobs which take place in today's larger companies, and completely overlook ergonomics in the small business world. In smaller businesses, workers could be doing a variety of jobs which could cause injury, but they will be left unaccounted for because of the statements which the committee has made which disregard them. I see no reason why small business, which in today's time are called the backbone of America, should be exempted from these regulations. The solution I feel could be addressed in a much more efficient manner. If the committee determined effective percentages which they feel could accurately depict these workplace-injuries , then the same standard could be applied effectively to both small and large business. Further I feel that these regulations could be applied in ways which would help both worker's health and businesses success improve in the future.

In order for California OSHA to have an effective measure, they must first clearly define the problem, and then write regulations which will push companies to make changes for the better. It is inevitable that if the committee can't even properly define the disorder, that there will be misinterpretations. The members must define cumulative trauma disorders so that employees will be able to notice them. Next litigation needs to be mandated to promote changes for the better. I feel a parallel for this regulation can be made with those which Michael Porter suggests for environmental regulation in "Green and Competitive." He summarizes that most regulations deter innovation and simply promote opposition. Therefore regulations need to be made which will give companies the chance to improve and meet specific goals in the future. This encourages innovation and ingenuity. The ergonomics regulation needs to be set at high standards for the future. This will encourage companies to make the changes which will help them and their workers. Once the companies see how vital these ergonomic changes are, it will in affect become contagious.

I feel the committee members were unable to show that the ergonomics measures will help everyone in the long run. They need to clearly articulate all the activities the disorders are present in, and push them in the right direction to make the necessary changes by enforcing strict regulation in the future. This is, and will become even more of an important issue in the workplace. It needs to be given a greater deal of attention, since it could play in important role in companies success. I therefore highly recommend that this regulation be improvised in order to benefit both the workers and their companies.


California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board, Nov 14 1996, Title 8, Chapter 4, Article 106, Section 5110.
Federal Register, August 3 1992, Department of Labor, Vol. 57 No. 149
Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Bulletin, Dec 1996, Volume 39, Number 12
Michael Porter, "Green and Competitive", Sept/Oct 1995, Harvard Business Review, p. 120 - 134


CAL OSHA Ergonomics Standard: Technically Sound, or Politically Correct?
Andre V. Mancl

In the early Industrial History of the United States, there was little authority on how safe or ergonomically sound the workplace was. I can even recall reading a book entitled, "The Jungle", which described the working conditions in the original Chicago stockyards and meat packing plants. It described the factory conditions which were completely unsafe, and the food produced, which was completely unsanitary. Since such appalling findings, there has been the implementation of regulatory agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration to combat unsanitary products. On the other hand, for the workplace and safety conditions, there has been an agency formed called the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA has been known to be the "watchdog" over businesses to ensure set regulations are being met.

Since its origin, OSHA has been criticized as to whether it is acting to laxed on businesses when it comes to workplace safety standards. With this in mind, we refer back to the title of paper-Is OSHA truly doing its job as intended, or is it just window dressing for the government to keep workers off of their back?

Recently in 1995, the Ballenger OSHA reform act was passed, which cut OSHA's budget by 15.5%. This makes us ask: What is the true purpose behind this act? OSHA claims that over 100 million workers depend on them, however the government is cutting their budget by an extremely notable amount. If OSHA truly does what it claims to do, it could be a dreadful mistake.

What it boils down to is a simple idea. If we(the government) increase the funding in OSHA and put hard nosed administrators in charge, many American businesses will either be fined or shut down. This will discourage businesses to operate in the United States, hence dropping employment significantly while business moves overseas. So what is the solution? Do we turn our back on these work condition violations and let the businesses flourish, or do we shut down the factories and leave these workers in good health, but no employment. There has to be an resolution somewhere.

It puts all of us in a difficult situation, just as in the case of George Galatis, a man who "Blew the whistle on Nuclear Safety"(Time, p34) by reporting his companies safety violations to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Instead of being praised, he was harassed, and basically shunned by fellow workers. Is this the attitude that American Workers have? Do we prefer unsafe employment over obeying the rules?

Everyone will have their own opinion on this problem depending on which standpoint you come from. If you are an American Business, the answer is obvious. You don't want the government emposing regulations on your company. Hence, the fight for the United Parcel Service, lead by lobbyist and former director of OSHA Dotty Strunk, was won and regulations were dismissed or frozen. However, if you are worker who suffers from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or back pains, you want some way to keep your health and your job.

OSHA was made for a purpose, and I think both sides of the regulatory spectrum need to come to some sort of median to ensure that Americans have employment, and that they work in safe conditions. If this means becoming a little more laxed on either end, then that is what needs to happen. OSHA can be technically sound within a couple years, if qualified people are put in charge, and honest, dedicated politicians are put in Washington to take care of the American Workforce.

Pooley, Eric "NUCLEAR SAFETY FALLOUT", Time p34, March 17, 1997



On January 2, 1996, the California Office of Administrative Law (OAL) rejected CalOSHA's proposed revision of the California Code of Regulations concerning ergonomics. Amendments were made and the regulations were later approved on November 14. In this paper, I will present answers for questionable areas concerning the new regulations. What was wrong with the proposal in the first place? What changes were made and for what reasons? And finally, were these changes intended for the regulations to be more technically sound or more politically correct?

According to OAL's Notice of Decision, the original Title 8, Section 5110 was rejected because it "failed to satisfy the Clarity standard of Government Code Section 1139.1". There were seven areas of concern which all seemed to be very nit-picky for political reasons. They are the following:
1. The elements of the factual finding that must be made to trigger the operation of Section 5110 are not clearly displayed.
2. The text fails to explain exactly which work activity factors must be identical to qualify as "identical work activity".
3. It is not clear if the "identical work activity" must be at the same workplace nor is a strict definition of the "same workplace" given.
4. In the diagnosis context, it is not clear what RMI means.
5. The phrase "objectively identified" as used in the description of a diagnosed musculoskeletal injury is not explained.
6. It is not clear if the "event that must occur more than once a year" is an injury, diagnosis or finding that the injury was caused by repetitive work activity.
7. The proposal does not clearly specify the employer's obligation to implement measures for minimization of RMIs.

The version that was later approved included revisions that seem to change the major focus of the proposal. The title, for example, is no longer "Ergonomics". It is called "Repetitive Motion Injuries". RMI, although it is an important factor, is just a portion of ergonomic concern. There are more recognized risk factors associated with cumulative trauma such as force, awkward positions, static postures and vibration. Even the definition of RMI in the new proposal is narrowly focused. In order to satisfy the "Clarity Standard" changes were made in the terminology and Appendix A: Ergonomics Program for VDT Operations was omitted. To avoid further confusion, employers with 9 of fewer employees were made exempt from these regulations. Overall, the original proposal of the regulations were greatly reduced and, in turn, now applies to only 21 million workers in high-risk jobs rather than the nation's entire work force of 96 million.

The answer to the title of this paper: CalOSHA ERGONOMICS STANDARDS: TECHNICALLY SOUND OR POLITICALLY CORRECT is blatantly obvious. The intent of CalOSHA was to protect workers against avoidable work-related injuries having to do with ergonomics problems. Unfortunately, all government standards and regulations must meet strict political guidelines. As a result, the new ergonomics standards are more politically correct than technically sound.


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