If you thought OSHA had given up on ergonomics, think again as the agency recently used the General Duty Clause (GDC) to fine one of the largest pork processors in the U.S. for violations related to ergonomics.
After a six-month inspection of a Seaboard Foods facility in Guymon, OK, OSHA cited the company with one serious GDC health violation for exposing workers to ergonomic hazards associated with repetitive motion and lifting.
“Repetitive motion and overexertion can leave workers with chronic and life-changing medical conditions,” OSHA Area Director Steven Kirby said in a news release on the citation. “Employers who implement required workplace safety measures, track injuries and identify needed improvements can protect workers from suffering painful, debilitating injuries.”
Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are among the most frequently reported causes of lost or restricted work time, according to OSHA’s ergonomics webpage.
In 2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported these disorders accounted for nearly one-third of all worker injury and illness cases.
If this type of injury is so important to OSHA, then why not just create a standard that covers ergonomics?
The short answer is that OSHA did have an ergonomics standard in the past.
Rulemaking and an early draft of the standard began in the early 1990s.
In January 2001 the standard was adopted, but President George W. Bush’s administration repealed it in March of the same year.
After that, in lieu of a standard OSHA issued guidance to employers and relied on the General Duty Clause for enforcement.
Importance of proper stretching
Workers across all industries can be exposed to ergonomic injuries, but some are at higher risk than others.
Do your employees have tasks that require frequent heavy lifting, pushing and pulling or repetitive exertions? If so, then they are at a higher risk of getting MSDs.
Having to work in cold environments and an individual worker’s level of physical fitness can also play a role in determining the likelihood of getting an MSD.
So how do you keep your workers safe from MSDs and at the same time keep your company from getting a GDC ergonomics violation?
The single biggest thing a worker can do to avoid an ergonomic injury is to stretch the appropriate muscles before starting to work.
Which stretches will work best depends on the type of work being done.
Proper positioning and posture while performing a given task is also important, so work areas should be set up in a way to limit straining and reaching.
What does an ergonomics program need?
According to OSHA, a good workplace ergonomics program should:
- have management support to define clear goals, discuss those goals with workers, assign responsibilities to designated staff members and communicate clearly with the workforce
- involve workers in providing information about the hazards in their work areas, encourage them to offer suggestions for reducing exposure and evaluate changes made as a result of an ergonomic assessment
- provide training to workers to make them aware of ergonomics and its benefits and understand the importance of reporting early symptoms of MSDs
- identify ergonomic problems in the workplace
- encourage early reporting of MSD symptoms to reduce the progression of symptoms and prevent serious injuries
- implement solutions to control ergonomics hazards that are tailored to the specific workplace and task, and
- evaluate progress to assess the effectiveness of the ergonomic process and ensure its long-term success.
OSHA’s ergonomics webpage has a variety of resources on ergonomics and MSDs from both the agency and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.