OSHA tries user-friendly approach to new standard

Proposal incorporates Q&A format, flexibility

Flexibility and user-friendliness are two likable attributes that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration is trying to incorporate into its proposed ergonomics standard.

Unlike the prescriptive wording of an earlier draft, this proposed standard allows employers to determine what type of remedy would be most appropriate after a musculoskeletal disorder injury. Employers do not have to evaluate job activities unless an injury has actually occurred.

The proposed standard also adds a "quick-fix" option that allows employers to address an isolated workplace injury without a full-blown program of analysis, training, and medical management.

OSHA estimates that 25% of all "problem jobs" could be controlled with the quick fix.

"The standard is not going to require you to do anything specific about what [equipment] you need to get or how many you need to get," says Guy Fragala, PhD, PE, CSP, director, environmental health and safety, at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester, and a leading ergonomics expert. "It requires you to look at where the problems are and try to come up with solutions."

OSHA also has tried to make the proposed standard easier to read and understand. Though it numbers almost 400 pages, including supporting material, the text itself incorporates a question-and-answer format.

OSHA asserts that the effects of the standard will likewise be relatively painless, with costs offset by higher productivity, fewer injuries, and lower workers’ compensation premiums and payouts.

While the standard initially may lead to an increase in reports of musculoskeletal disorder injuries, the number of reported injuries actually will decrease after the first six months, OSHA predicts, based on a survey of employers with ergonomics programs.

"We’ve patterned this approach on what employers are already doing," says Gary Orr, PE, CPE, an ergonomist with OSHA who was involved in drafting the standard. "Good ergonomics, where you fit the task to the person, is good economics."

[Editor’s note: A copy of the proposed standard is available on OSHA’s Web site (www.osha-slc.gov/ ergonomics-standard) or by calling the OSHA publications office at (202) 693-1888.]