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Public Citizen Urges OSHA to Learn More About Employees’ Ailments

March 30, 2010

Public Citizen Urges OSHA 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 told the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) today.

The agency is considering requiring employers to track and report musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs, separately, instead of lumping them into a catch-all category of “all other illnesses,” thereby providing the agency with more information about how to protect workers.

“Identifying musculoskeletal disorders in a separate column in workplace injury records will better enable the government to evaluate patterns of injury and illness, and improve its responses to these types of problems,” said Lena Pons, a policy analyst with Public Citizen, which submitted comments to OSHA today.

The idea of reporting musculoskeletal injuries is not new. In 2001, OSHA included a separate column for reporting MSDs. But due to objections from manufacturers, the provision was delayed and eventually deleted in 2003.

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. But these injuries are likely far more widespread. In 2000, the last year “repeated trauma” cases were recorded, 67 percent of illnesses were in that category.

 “OSHA cannot carry out its mission effectively without better data on such a large and an important class of workplace injuries,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “Repetitive motion injuries and other MSDs remain the silent traumas of the workplace. We know far too little about these injuries, for the simple reason that we don’t ask employers to report them separately.”

Better information would allow the agency to tailor inspections, research efforts and safety regulations appropriately. Without it, the agency cannot identify industries with patterns of incidents, allocate appropriate resources to understanding and reducing MSDs, and discern the efficacy of its efforts, Public Citizen told OSHA.

“The proposed recordkeeping requirement is a simple, inexpensive measure that would significantly improve OSHA’s fulfillment of its statutory mandate,” Weissman said.

Public Citizen’s comments to OSHA can be viewed at
Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit public interest organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org.