Ergonomics: The Issue That Never Dies
The National Advisory Committee on Ergonomics (NACE) recently reached consensus on several recommendations which they have presented to OSHA with the intent that the recommendations be useful in guiding the agency to a more comprehensive approach to reducing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in the workplace. I think you will find these recommendations fairly interesting. While a few are fairly positive for our industry, it also amazes me that notwithstanding the fact that there is NO consensus on a single definition of MSDs, NACE encourages OSHA to continue the development of guidelines independent of a definition. Nothing like a good federal advisory group to put the cart well before the horse. Nonetheless, the group does recommend additional research in key areas as follows:
- Examine the validity of techniques used to establish a diagnosis of MSDs
- Psychosocial factors that contribute to or impact the development of MSDs
- Studies to develop additional animal models in which the effects of physical loading on living tissues can be studied in a controlled manner
- Studies to examine the validity and reliability of existing exposure assessments
- Develop additional assessment methods
- Studies to determine the economic impact to organizations of what are commonly described as ergonomic interventions
- Studies to address the multifactorial causes of MSDs, such as psychosocial, physical, occupational and NON-OCCUPATIONAL factors and their interactions
- Studies to describe the natural history MSDs
- Studies regarding factors in workers? compensation systems and other statutory payment mechanisms on findings of causation, diagnosis, the duration of the disability and other outcomes
The NACE group also recommended that an ergonomics program be included in a comprehensive occupational safety and health program in the same way as personal protective equipment hazard assessments and other safety and health concerns are addressed.
I think it is extremely important that the group finally recognized that MSDs are a consequence of exposures to risk factors of a multiple nature, including activities performed outside the work arena. But they did advise that one of the best ways to address that concern is through education of the workforce.
I will be following the development of these recommendations very carefully to see if some of the research actually moves forward before OSHA acts to draft ergonomics guidelines for other industries.
If you have any questions about any of this, please let me know.
About the Author
Marian J. Marshall was the Director of Government Affairs for the Mason Contractors Association of America.