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  YourHealth > Health@Work  << Previous|Next >>
 

US Employers address ergonomic injuries

Employers would have to correct injury-causing workplace conditions that require repetitive motion, overexertion or awkward posture under proposed regulations the U.S. Labour Department announced in late fall.

The proposal would affect about 1.9 million U.S. work sites - one of every three - and more than 27 million U.S. workers. The department estimated the cost to employers at $4.2 billion a year.

Each year, 1.8 million workers have musculoskeletal injuries related to ergonomic factors and 600,000 people miss some work because of them, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The injuries to muscles, nerves, ligaments and tendons include such problems as carpal tunnel syndrome, back pain and tendinitis.

"The fact is that work-related musculoskeletal disorders . . . are the most prevalent, most expensive and most preventable workplace injuries in the country and it is time we do something about it," said Labour Secretary Alexis Herman.

Under the rules, a worker who has an ergonomic injury diagnosed by a doctor would be entitled to have the work environment fixed to relieve the cause - by changing the height of an assembly line or computer keyboard, for example.

In addition, the rule would require all manufacturers and companies with workers who do manual heavy lifting to provide preventive training.

The proposed rules, scheduled to be published in Federal Register, cannot become final until next year at the earliest, after a comment period that will include public hearings in Washington and other cities.

The OSHA estimated that employers who need to correct problems will spend an average of $150 US a year per work station fixed. The total cost was estimated at $4.2 billion a year.

The Labour Department estimated the new rules could prevent injury to about 300,000 workers annually and save employers $9 billion.

Ergonomic injuries currently cost $15 billion to $20 billion annually for workers' compensation and $30 billion to $40 billion in other expenses such as medical care, the agency said.

- More articles on Ergonomics

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