April 12, 2002

OSHA unveiled a comprehensive plan designed to dramatically reduce ergonomic injuries through a combination of industry-targeted guidelines, tough enforcement measures, workplace outreach, advanced research, and dedicated efforts to protect Hispanic and other immigrant workers.

"Our goal is to help workers by reducing ergonomic injuries in the shortest possible time frame," said Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao. "This plan is a major improvement over the rejected old rule because it will prevent ergonomics injuries before they occur and reach a much larger number of at-risk workers."

Occupational Safety and Health Administrator John Henshaw said his agency would immediately begin work on developing industry and task-specific guidelines to reduce and prevent ergonomic injuries, often called musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), which occur in the workplace. OSHA expects to begin releasing guidelines ready for application in selected industries this year. OSHA will also encourage other businesses and industries to immediately develop additional guidelines of their own.

The Department's ergonomics enforcement plan will crack down on bad actors by coordinating inspections with a legal strategy designed for successful prosecution. The Department will place special emphasis on industries with the sorts of serious ergonomics problems that OSHA and DOL attorneys have successfully addressed in prior 5(a)(1) or General Duty clause cases, including the Beverly Enterprises and Pepperidge Farm cases. For the first time, OSHA will have an enforcement plan designed from the start to target prosecutable ergonomic violations. Also for the first time, inspections will be coordinated with a legal strategy developed by DOL attorneys that is based on prior successful ergonomics cases and is designed to maximize successful prosecutions. And, OSHA will have special ergonomics inspection teams that will, from the earliest stages, work closely with DOL attorneys and experts to successfully bring prosecutions under the General Duty clause.

The new ergonomics plan also calls for compliance assistance tools to help workplaces reduce and prevent ergonomic injuries. OSHA will provide specialized training and information on guidelines and the implementation of successful ergonomics programs. It will also administer targeted training grants, develop compliance assistance tools, forge partnerships and create a recognition program to highlight successful ergonomics injury reduction efforts.

As part of the Department of Labor's cross-agency commitment to protecting immigrant workers, especially those with limited English proficiency, the new ergonomics plan includes a specialized focus to help Hispanic and other immigrant workers, many of whom work in industries with high ergonomic hazard rates.

The plan also includes the announcement of a national advisory committee; part of their task will be to advise OSHA on research gaps. In concert with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, OSHA will stimulate and encourage needed research in this area.

"Bureau of Labor Statistics' data show that musculoskeletal disorders are already on the decline. This plan is designed to accelerate that decline as quickly as possible," said OSHA Administrator John Henshaw. "Thousands of employers are already working to reduce ergonomic risks without government mandates. We want to work with them to continuously improve workplace safety and health. We will go after the bad actors who refuse to take care of their workers."

The new plan was announced barely a year after Republicans and Democrats in Congress rejected the previous Administration's rule, which was developed over a period of eight years and was broadly denounced as being excessively burdensome and complicated. Over the course of the last year, the Department of Labor conducted three major public forums around the country and met with scores of stakeholders, collecting hundreds of sets of written comments and taking testimony from 100 speakers, including organized labor, workers, medical experts, and businesses.


OSHA named regional coordinators for ergonomics for each of its 10 regional offices to assist OSHA staff, employers, employees and other stakeholders with ergonomic issues.

The coordinators all have considerable experience in identifying ergonomic hazards and suggesting practical solutions for common problems that may be associated with musculoskeletal disorders. They will serve as a resource for OSHA compliance officers in conducting and documenting hazards during inspections. Regional ergonomics coordinators will also assist with and track the outreach and education efforts of OSHA compliance assistance specialists as they offer training and guidance on best practices in ergonomics and respond to specific questions from employers and employees.

OSHA's regional ergonomics coordinators include:
Region I Boston, Fred Malaby, (617) 565-9860
Region II New York, Paul Cherasard, (212) 337-2378
Region III Philadelphia, Jim Johnston, (215) 861-4900
Region IV Atlanta, Jim Drake, (404) 562-2300
Region V Chicago, Dana Root, (312) 353-2220
Region VI Dallas, Susan Monroe, (214) 767-4731
Region VII Kansas City, JoBeth Cholmondeley, (816) 426-5861
Region VIII Denver, Terry Mitton Terry, (303) 844-1600
Region IX San Francisco, Barbara Goto, (415) 975-4310
Region X Seattle, Steve Gossman, (206) 553-5930


OSHA announced the publication of a revised compliance directive for communication tower construction that removes the restriction on raising employees on the hoist line to workstations below 200 feet. All other policies and procedures of the directive remain unchanged.

"This change allows tower workers to be lifted on the hoist line to work stations, regardless of the elevation," said OSHA Administrator John Henshaw, "and maintains appropriate safety measures for safe access to communications towers during construction."

The revised compliance directive, "Interim Inspection Procedures During Communication Tower Construction Activities," applies only to the construction of new communications towers. Activities such as maintenance, retrofitting, and dismantling will be addressed in a future directive.

The change applies only to federal programs and does not require state adoption. However, states have up to 60 days to provide notification of whether they intend to adopt the new guidelines.


After nearly three million work hours, only 35 workers at the World Trade Center recovery site suffered injuries that resulted in lost workdays. Of the 35 reported cases, none were life threatening.

"The Lost Workday Injury and Illness Rate (LWDII) rate at the World Trade Center is 2.3," said OSHA Administrator John Henshaw. "While the work being done here is clearly unparalleled, the closest comparison is specialty construction which includes demolition. The lost time injury and illness rate for specialty construction is 4.3."

"Given the extraordinary circumstances involved, this rate reflects the tremendous effort of everyone involved -- the workers, Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater NY (BCTC), Building Trades Employer's Association (BTEA), the City of New York and the federal government," said Patricia K. Clark, OSHA's regional administrator in New York.

The LWDII was obtained by collecting the injury and illness data from all the contractors at the site. The rate was then calculated in the way injury and illness rates are customarily calculated -- by dividing the number of OSHA-recordable injuries by the number of hours worked. This rate covers all contractor employees working at the WTC site.

OSHA signed a partnership agreement in November 2001 with contractors, employees, employee representatives, and governmental agencies participating in the emergency response efforts in lower Manhattan. In order to continue this cooperative effort to protect all workers at the WTC site and to keep the injury and illness rate as low as possible, OSHA has entered into a new partnership with the construction manager Bovis/Amec, BCTC, and BTEA. The partnership was signed on Wednesday.


Failing to protect employees from safety and health hazards at a Lumberton, Miss., plant may cost Custom Precast Products, Inc. $87,750 in penalties according to citations issued by OSHA.

OSHA inspectors visited the site where concrete sewer products are manufactured on Oct. 30, 2001, and found that the company failed to service the overhead crane regularly. When workers did perform repair work on the crane, it was not locked out to prevent it from starting inadvertently during the maintenance operation. OSHA cited Custom Precast for two willful violations of safety standards and proposed penalties totaling $66,000.

Twenty-one additional safety and health violations were cited with penalties totaling $21,750 for serious hazardous conditions -- those that the employer knew, or should have known, could result in injury or death.

The serious citations included: a distance between ladder rungs of more than 12 inches; employees making repairs to a crane from a backhoe's elevated bucket; training not provided to forklift operators; locks not provided for a lockout/tagout program; no inspection program for cranes; using a crane with defective brakes; storage of unsecured, combustible oxygen and acetylene cylinders together; failing to provide weatherproof enclosures for electrical panels, and no written hazard communication program.

Custom Precast Products, Inc., which employs 42 workers at the Lumberton facility, has 15 working days to contest OSHA's citations and penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.