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January 26, 2010

Will Ergonomic Regulations Make a Comeback?

OSHA recently announced its intent to reinstate the "musculoskeletal disorder" column on its Injury and Illness 300 Log. The agency is also developing a proposed rule to add a definition of musculoskeletal disorders to the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Notice of the proposed rule-making and opportunity for public comment is expected this month.

Some labor experts say this is one of several signs that employers will face more regulation related to ergonomics. Under the proposal, OSHA would restore the column employers use when recording work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). OSHA says the MSD data will help about 750,000 employers and 40 million workers track injuries at individual workplaces, and improve occupational injury and illness information published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The MSD column was removed from the OSHA 300 Log in 2003.

Ergonomic-related regulations were implemented in 2000, but were revoked in 2001 and the Ergonomics Standard was repealed in 2001. Since then, OSHA has evaluated ergonomic issues by using the General Duty Clause of the Act. According to the labor law publication Hunton Employment & Labor Perspectives, "It does not appear that the new regulations will fully reinstate all the provisions that were repealed in 2001, particularly the recordkeeping provisions, which if fully reinstated likely would be challenged in court."

When asked if the proposal is a prelude to a broader ergonomics regulation, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said, "We are simply putting the MSD column back on the OSHA log as was originally intended in the 2001 issuance of OSHA's recordkeeping standard. MSDs continue to be a major problem for American workers, but at this time, OSHA has no plans for regulatory activity."

Despite this statement, Hunton & Williams says it doesn't mean ergonomics is not on the agenda for the Department of Labor. "Several officials within OSHA have made statements suggesting that new regulations may be coming," they state, noting that new OSHA head David Michaels has spoken in favor of new ergonomic standards.

Watch for more details in future issues, or read more now with these links:
OSHA announcement on regulatory priorities
- Hunton Employment & Labor Perspectives ergonomics article

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