By ANGELA CHILDERS, a freelance writer based in Chicago
CHICAGO---The changes in health and safety regulations and enforcement that many pro-business groups have feared are one step closer to reality, now that the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has confirmed the appointment of David Michaels as the head of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration.
With a 10 percent increase in the OSHA budget and Michaels likely taking over as the new Assistant Secretary of Labor, according to Cindy Roth, CEO of Ergonomic Technologies Corp., all companies need to be concerned about safety because "there's a new sheriff in town."
With the pro-labor and pro-enforcement positions of Michaels and the Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, Roth said companies should expect to soon encounter a "strong, enforceable OSHA--something we haven't had in the past eight years."
Michaels, who is a believer in metrics measurement and the creation of an enforceable ergonomics standard, is expected to strongly push for the prevention of musculoskeletal disorders in all workplaces if he is confirmed.
And with OSHA's new budget of $564 million for 2010, including the addition of 210 personnel, inspecting OSHA logs and penalizing health and safety violators will be easier for the administration to accomplish.
"The message is this: They will aggressively enforce the law," Roth said.
WORTH IT ANYWAY
But regardless of the government changes, Roth said companies need to recognize that focusing on safety and ergonomics is cost-effective and saves on workers' comp claims.
"It's a proactive, not reactive approach, and the money goes right to the bottom line," Roth said."Ergonomics can reduce and assist in the management of workers' comp costs."
Roth said research has shown repeatedly that MSDs are the most expensive of all claims when productivity is factored into the cost.
"Can you imagine an employee with a sore shoulder, back aching, feet aching--how much can you concentrate?" she asked. "What does it take and how much is it worth to have an employee who can't function 100 percent?"
So how does one begin to implement an office ergonomics management program--particularly with a slim or nonexistent budget for improving safety?
Roth said companies first need to identify all moderate and intensive computer users and train employees on how to make simplistic changes, both at the workplace and in their personal lives.
For instance, employees who work on a computer all day should be warned not to surf the Web all night, and workers should know where their lumbar area is located and shown how to adjust office chairs to provide adequate support.
"Make sure you also really encourage computer users to discuss concerns with supervisors," she said.
And look at work envelopes to ensure maximum reach doesn't extend beyond 15 inches and that the workstations are flexible and adjustable.
Finally, Roth said, people need to understand that carpel tunnel syndrome, an overdiagnosed condition, should first be treated with conservative therapies such as anti-steroidal and anti-inflammatory drugs and ice therapies, with surgery as a last resort.
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National Workers' Compensation and Disability ConferenceŽ
November 23, 2009
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