HR Management & Compliance

Ergonomics: Fed/OSHA Pushes Through Final Ergonomics Rule; Impact On Employers

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued controversial final ergonomics standards that are tougher than California’s current law. The final federal rule is scheduled to take effect Jan. 16, 2001. California will then have six months to adopt a similar standard.

But industry groups are unhappy with a number of the new provisions, including one that requires employees who are off work due to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) to be paid up to 90% of their wages. And given a compliance price tag estimated as high as $90 billion, lawsuits have already been filed to block the standard’s implementation.

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Who Is Covered

The final federal rule applies to most employers regardless of the number of employees, exempting only the maritime, construction and agriculture industries.

Injuries That Trigger Employer Action

Under California and federal law, there are very different triggers of your obligation to develop an ergonomics program. California covers MSD injuries only if 50% of the condition was caused by repetitive work activity. Plus, two or more employees must suffer injuries from the same repetitive motion activity.

The federal rule is more complex. An MSD is covered if it’s work-related and requires time away from work, restricted work, or medical treatment beyond first aid, or if the symptoms last for seven consecutive days.

Plus, the MSD must have occurred in a job that involves exposure to certain risk factors at specified levels. Examples include steady use of a keyboard or mouse for more than four hours a day, or maintaining an awkward posture or using vibrating tools for more than two hours a day.

When A Program Is Required

If an MSD requires you to take action (see above), you have to implement a full ergonomics program or, under certain circumstances, make a “quick fix” to remedy the problem.

The federal rules require your program to include these elements:

  1. Management leadership and employee participation. You have to designate specific employees to manage your program.


  2. Hazard information and reporting. You’re required to set up a procedure for employees to report MSDs, and you must provide information to workers about these conditions.


  3. Job hazard analysis and control. You have to analyze risk factors in jobs with reported MSDs and undertake control measures. You have 90 days to implement interim controls and up to four years to adopt permanent solutions.


  4. Medical evaluation and pay continuation. In addition to obtaining a health care professional’s assessment of the employee’s medical condition, employers have to pay the injured worker’s salary and benefits during their recovery—100% if the employee is on light duty, and 90% if they are off work—for a maximum of 90 days. Wages may be offset by workers’ comp, paid sick leave or short-term disability benefits.


  5. Training. You have to provide injury prevention training every three years for employees in jobs with covered MSDs, as well as for their supervisors and program managers.


  6. Program evaluation. You’re required to reevaluate your ergonomics program at least every three years.


  7. Recordkeeping. If you have 11 or more employees, ergonomics records must be kept for three years.

Educating Employees

Under the federal rule, all employers who are covered by the standard—even when no MSD is reported—must provide basic information to workers about MSD symptoms and risk factors, the jobs associated with MSD hazards and how to report MSD injuries or symptoms.

Other Provisions

If only an occasional MSD is reported, under certain conditions you can make a “quick fix,” such as adjusting the height of the employee’s chair or desk, rather than implementing a full ergonomics program. The standard also has grandfather provisions for maintaining existing programs.

For More Information

We’ll keep you advised of any new developments as they unfold.