By Aaron R. Gelb and Andrew J. Sommer
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are the single most common type of work-related injury, but federal OSHA has struggled for decades to develop a coherent regulatory and/or enforcement strategy to address the hazards that cause these ergonomic injuries. Where federal OSHA fell short, the State of California has picked up the slack, with Cal-OSHA recently finalizing a safety standard regarding Housekeeping Musculoskeletal Injury Prevention. The standard, which will go into effect this summer applies to all lodging establishments that offer sleeping accommodations available to be rented by members of the public, and requires operators to develop, implement and maintain a written Musculoskeletal Injury Prevention Program tailored to hazards associated with housekeeping.
Background About Ergonomics
An ergonomic hazard is a physical factor within the work environment that has the potential to cause a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD). MSDs are injuries and disorders that affect the human body’s movement or musculoskeletal system; i.e., muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, discs, blood vessels, etc. Common ergonomic hazards include repetitive movement, manual handling, workplace design, uncomfortable workstation height, and awkward body positioning. The most frequent ergonomic injuries (or musculoskeletal disorders) include muscle/tendon strains, sprains, and back pains, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Tendonitis, Degenerative Disc Disease, Ruptured / Herniated Disc, etc., caused by performing the same motion over and over again (such as vacuuming), overexertion of physical force (lifting heavy objects), or working while in an awkward position (twisting your body to reach up or down to perform a work task).
MSDs are the single most common type of work related injury. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, MSDs alone account for nearly 30% of all worker’s compensation costs. OSHA estimates that work-related MSDs in the U.S. alone account for over 600,000 injuries and illnesses (approx. 34% of all lost workdays reported to the BLS), and employers spend as much as $20 billion a year on direct costs for MSD-related injuries and up 5x that on indirect costs (e.g., lost productivity, hiring and training replacement workers, etc.).
Federal OSHA’s Ergonomics Enforcement Policy
Nevertheless, federal OSHA has been lost in the woods for years searching for a coherent ergonomics enforcement policy. In the final days of the Clinton Administration in November 2000, federal OSHA promulgated an extremely controversial midnight Ergonomics Standard, requiring employers to take measures to curb ergonomic injuries in the workplace. Continue reading