Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Ergonomic Injuries Still Number One

New news, old news: Four years after George Bush and the Republican Congress bowed to their corporate benefactors and repealed OSHA's newly issued ergonomics standard, ergonomic injuries (musculoskeletal disorders or MSDs) stubbornly remain the number one workplace injury. Knowing the news would not please me or the readers of Confined Space, the Bureau of Labor Statistics cleverly released this information in its annual report on the characteristics of lost-worktime injuries and illnesses for 2003 while I was on vacation.

Despite four years of the Bush administration's "CompRehensive APproach" to ergonomics (outreach, enforcement, and research -- but not regulations), ergonomic injuries not only remain stuck at one-third of all serious workplace injuries and illnesses that involved days away from work, but they are also more severe than other injuries, causing workers to stay out of work longer.

The service sector had the most MSDs, with 71% of all cases. Health care and social assistance were the industry sectors that reported the most cases, with 19 percent of all MSD cases. Nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants were the occupation with the most MSDs. Laborers and material movers, along with heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers and the second and third most MSDs.

Carpal tunnel syndrome had the highest median days away from work (32 days), even more than fractures (30 days), and amputations (30 days). The longest absences from work were caused by repetitive motion, such as grasping tools, scanning groceries, and typing.

Despite this news, Acting Assistant Secretary Jonathan Snare remains firmly locked in see-no-evil, hear-no-evil" mode.
Today's data, along with the seven-percent decline in workplace injuries and illnesses from 2002 to 2003 that BLS reported last December, validates OSHA's policy of targeting outreach and enforcement resources where they will have the most impact. This data tells us our Strategic Management Plan is on the right track.
Yeah, right. So where did the "CompRehensive APproach" go wrong?

Where did it go right, might be the question. In the last four years, federal OSHA has issued three wishy-washy ergonomics guidelines (for the nursing home, grocery and poultry processing industries), done no research, issued fewer than 20 14 ergonomics-related citations and formed over 70 worthless ergonomic-related alliances.

And hundreds of thousands of seriously disabled workers is all they have to show for it.

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