Business owners worried that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's new ergonomics standards program will significantly impact their operations can relax (see "Guerrilla Ergonomics," March 2001). Although the effective date of the standard has come and gone, Congress got involved before the rule started to effect most workplaces.
The final standard was published in November with an effective date of January 16. But that date was postponed two months by an executive order signed by President Bush the day he took office. Actually, the Bush order postponed the start of all executive orders and new regulations of the outgoing administration by 60 days. Then the ergonomics regulation became a test case for the Republican majority in Congress' promise to roll back regulations put into place during Clinton's final months. Congress was able to do so, because last term it passed the Congressional Review Act, which gives it the power to invalidate a final agency rule.
The OSHA standard was aimed at reducing workplace injuries from repetitive tasks or those associated with lifting and other manual jobs. Among the jobs with the potential for hazards are computer work and the use of VDT workstations. It has been shown that long hours in front of a computer can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome and other musculoskeletal injuries.
All businesses and workplaces were covered by the standard, but small businesses with fewer than 10 employees had been exempt from record keeping requirements and small businesses were allowed easier ways to comply with other requirements than large businesses.
OSHA research shows that more than half a million musculoskeletal injuries occur in the workplace annually, with carpal tunnel syndrome being one of the most common. While it may no require companies obligated to implement a specific ergonomics program, OSHA still recommends that employers carefully study the problem, which results in tens of thousands of insurance claims annually.