WASHINGTON - The U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) issued a proposed ergonomics standard aimed at preventing work-related musculoskeletal disorders such as back injuries and carpal tunnel syndrome. The standard would require employers to address ergonomics issues for manual handling or production jobs where repetitive-motion or overexertion injuries are common.

Under the OSHA proposal, about 1.6 million employers would be required to implement a basic ergonomics program - assigning someone to be responsible for ergonomics; providing information to employees on the risk of injuries, signs and symptoms to watch for and the importance of reporting problems early; and setting up a system for employees to report signs and symptoms. Full programs would be required only if one or more work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) actually occurred. The proposal also offers a "Quick Fix" alternative to setting up a full ergonomics program. Under that option, an employer would be allowed to correct a hazard within 90 days and check to see that the correction works, with no further action necessary. In addition, a "grandfather" clause gives credit to companies that already have effective ergonomics programs in place and are working to correct hazards.

The proposal would require that workers who experience musculoskeletal disorders receive a prompt response, evaluation of their injury and follow-up by a health-care professional, if necessary. Workers who need time off the job to recover from the injury could get 90% of their pay and 100% of their benefits, and workers on light duty would receive full pay and benefits. OSHA said those provisions are designed to encourage early reporting to catch problems before they result in injuries.

The ergonomics proposal was published in the Nov. 23, 1999 Federal Register. Copies of the proposed regulatory text, the introduction and public-participation sections and related materials are available on the Web site www.osha-slc/ergonomics-standard/. The agency also is offering a free CD-ROM with the regulatory text, the preamble, the complete regulatory analysis and the full discussion of health effects. Both the CD-ROM and printed copies can be ordered over the web or by calling 202/693.1888. OSHA said the materials also would be available on the OSHA Web site, www.osha.gov.