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Public Citizen Commends OSHA’s Proposal to Learn More About Employees’ Ailments

Jan. 29, 2010

Public Citizen Commends OSHA’s Proposal to Learn More About Employees’ Ailments

Reporting Musculoskeletal Disorders Will Inform Agency
About Trends in the Workplace, Keep Employees Safer

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A government proposal to require employers to track musculoskeletal disorders is a positive step that will help improve on-the-job safety, Public Citizen said.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) today proposed requiring employers to track and report musculoskeletal disorders separately instead of lumping them into a catch-all category of “all other illnesses.”

Public Citizen applauds this effort, as this recordkeeping will close an information gap and inform OSHA, employers and the public about patterns of workplace musculoskeletal disorders.  This knowledge is critical to prevent this class of injuries, which afflict millions of Americans.

“Separately listing musculoskeletal disorders in workplace injury records will provide better information to OSHA so the agency can evaluate patterns of injury and illness, and improve its responses to these types of injuries and illnesses,” said Lena Pons, a policy analyst with Public Citizen.

OSHA states that this recordkeeping change does not imply that the agency will issue a standard related to musculoskeletal injuries and illnesses, commonly known as an ergonomics standard. Public Citizen believes such a standard is needed and urges the agency to issue one without delay. OSHA issued an ergonomics standard in January 2001, on the last day of the Clinton administration, only to be overruled by the Republican Congress.

“Repetitive motion injuries are the hidden scourge of the workplace,” Public Citizen President Robert Weissman said. “This recordkeeping rule will bring them into the open and should help spur long-delayed regulatory moves to protect workers and reduce incidence of these debilitating injuries.”

OSHA estimates that musculoskeletal disorders, defined as “disorders of the muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage and spinal discs, except those caused by slips, trips, falls, motor vehicle accidents or other similar accidents,” make up about 29 percent of injuries and illnesses resulting in days away from work. In 2007, Bureau of Labor Statistics data found 335,400 cases where musculoskeletal disorders resulted in days away from work; OSHA recorded a total of 4 million occupational injuries and illnesses that year.

The idea of reporting musculoskeletal injuries is not new for the agency. OSHA in 2001 updated the form employers use for reporting workplace illness and injury, which then required employers to list musculoskeletal disorders (also called cumulative trauma disorders, repetitive motion injuries or repetitive strain injuries) in a separate column. But that provision never became effective. The reporting requirement was delayed and finally rescinded in 2003.

OSHA now proposes to restore the recordkeeping requirement that musculoskeletal disorders be listed in a designated column as it appeared in the 2001 final rule.

The agency will hold a public meeting March 9 and is accepting comments on the proposed recordkeeping change until March 15.

“OSHA must restore this recordkeeping requirement,” Pons said. “It will provide the agency volumes of information about employee illnesses and injuries, which it can use to support standards to keep employees safe in the future.”