The ergonomics rules change

By Loretta W. Prencipe, InfoWorld |  Career

THE ERGONOMICS PROGRAM Standard, enacted by the Occupational Safety and Health
Administration and effective Jan. 16, 2001, is highly controversial. Many business and
industry associations claim that the complex rule is too costly, is not grounded in
good science, and is unconstitutionally vague. Still, while associations argue it out
in federal court, companies should comply, says Peter Budnick, a certified professional
ergonomist and CEO of Ergoweb, in Midway, Utah.

1. Understand the program

The OSHA ergonomics rule affects most companies in the IT industry. Under the
program, Budnick says, companies assign a program leader, inform employees about risks
of work-related ergonomic injuries and warning signs, and establish a way for employees
to report injuries.The rule also directs the company to take remedial action once a
report is made.

2. Define injuries

The rule defines injuries as MSD (musculoskeletal disorders) brought on by a
mismatch between the worker's setup and the job's physical requirements. MSD injuries
that IT workers may complain of include carpal tunnel syndrome, low-back pain, and
tendinitis.

3. Trigger company action

A report of work-related MSD or recurring pain lasting seven consecutive days is,
according to OSHA, a "triggering mechanism." That means, Budnick says, that the company
must take action. Failure to comply can result in fines.

Budnick suggests that the program officer interview the employee and conduct an
ergonomic assessment of the employee's workstation. For remote employees, Ergoweb and
similar companies have Internet-based ergonomic assessment tools.

"The solution may be as simple as adjusting the height of [the] employee's chair or
getting a new keyboard," Budnick says. If the injured employee's workstation and job
function are the same as other workers', then the company may need to assess all
similarly situated employees.

4. Understand the bottom line

Budnick is not a big supporter of the complex legislation. Still, he believes that
having an ergonomic policy is good business, Budnick says. "Ergonomics is a great
bottom-line tool. When used proactively, it helps employees avoid injury [and] improves
[employee] productivity and ... quality of work." A good ergonomics program can help
identify early warning signs of injury and help prevent an injury that may put the
employee out of work for a long period of time.

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