Last week, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposed changes to the OSHA Form 300 to reinstate a previous requirement for better identifying work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). The new rule would restore a pre-2001 requirement that the form contain a separate check-off box for MSDs.
This change can be fairly viewed by employers as an effort by OSHA to better track and gather statistics on workplace MSDs. Over the past several months, OSHA has begun indicating its intent to reopen efforts to establish safety standards for ergonomic practices in the workplace. The agency actually adopted an ergonomics rule in the waning days of the Clinton administration. After loud complaints from business groups and multiple lawsuits challenging the new rules, they were quietly withdrawn by the Bush administration in 2001 after Congress appeared poised to prevent enforcement.
The 2001 ergonomics rule required covered employers to provide employees with basic information on ergonomic risks and injuries. If the trigger level for workplace MSDs was reached, employers were required to adopt a seven-step ergonomics management program intended to reduce the incidences of MSDs in the workplace.
Employers contended that the ergonomics rules were vague, and that it was difficult to understand their application to specific workplaces. Businesses also believed that it was difficult if not impossible to attribute many MSDs to work as opposed to injuries caused by normal physical wear and tear over time. The new rules would have given OSHA inspectors a large amount of discretion to issue citations based upon their conclusions as to whether the employer had adopted an effective ergonomics management program.
OSHA appears ready to revive the ergonomics rules based on its conclusion that MSDs remain the major source of workplace injuries, and that employers have not taken adequate measures to address ergonomic practices in the absence of a specific safety standard. As in 2001, employers are gearing up for a major battle with OSHA and the Obama administration if the revived rules contain the same issues noted a decade ago.