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A Real Pain

OSHA's new ergonomic rules for employers are the toughest yet. Here's how to get ready for them

With the Occupational Safety & Health Administration phasing in a tough new set of ergonomics regulations, entrepreneurs may want to brace for some aches and pains of their own.

Approved in the final days of the Clinton Administration, the rules--the most stringent ever--go into effect this month, and all businesses, except those in the construction, maritime, or agriculture industries, have until October to comply. Several business lobbies are suing OSHA on the grounds that the regulations are unconstitutional. But you should still be prepared to meet the October deadline, says Kim Bosgraaf of the National Federation of Independent Business.

How do the new rules work? First, employers must post information about ergonomic injuries and their symptoms. The tough part kicks in once a complaint is filed. Say an employee complains of neck pains that last for more than a week. You'll need to evaluate the cause of the injury, including paying for a medical exam if necessary. If the injury was indeed caused by working conditions, you'll need to correct the hazards that led to it. If you haven't resolved the problem within 90 days, you're required to fund and implement an entire ergonomics program. That means examining the workplace for all "risk factors" (OSHA offers a screening tool on its Web site, www.osha.gov) and remedying any problems within 90 days. Meanwhile, if an injury forces an employee to scale back his job, you'll have to continue to pay full salary and benefits. If the person can no longer work at all, employers are responsible for 90% of their pay and benefits for 90 days. That's the biggest--and costliest--change from previous rules, which generally required employers to pay two-thirds of salary and benefits.

At the very least, employers should evaluate their workplace with OSHA's screening tool, says Rani K. Lueder, president of Humanics ErgoSystems Inc., an Encino (Calif.)-based consulting firm. If you find a problem, there are inexpensive fixes, ranging from propping up a monitor on a phone book or providing cheap footrests. Sure, it's a pain. But if you don't pay attention to ergonomics in your own way now, you'll have to do it OSHA's way later.By Alison Stein WellnerReturn to top

ONLINE EXTRA

No Need to Pop an Artery over Ergonomic Rules

Here are some simple measures you can take to meet OSHA's new regulations

OSHA's new ergonomics standards go into effect this October. And a surefire way to avoid the regulation's most onerous portions is to not have an ergonomics problem in your office in the first place.

The first step towards prevention is to get acquainted with the new regulations. Go to OSHA's ergonomics home page: http://www.osha-slc.gov/ergonomics-standard/index.html. You can court eye strain and download the entire set of rules here. (But you'd better have a fast modem -- it's nearly 8MB of zipped data.) A better bet: Go to http://www.osha-slc.gov/ergonomics-standard/informationkit/standardfactsheet.pdf and read the four-page overview.

Next, you'll want to peruse some of OSHA's fact sheets, publications, and special reports that discuss ergonomic injury prevention in depth. For instance, if your employees are parked in front of a computer all day, here's what the agency advises in a pair of ergonomics publications, Options in Ergonomics and Ergonomics: Real People. Real Problems. Real Solutions for Under $100. Their suggestions include:* Train employees to make proper use of the adjustment features built into their office furniture and computer systems.* Encourage employees to take microbreaks to rest overused body parts.* Add a footrest for standing-posture workstations to ease leg and back pain.* Provide adjustable-height chairs, so employees can rest their feet comfortably on the floor. Chairs should support the lower back and have arm rests, so occupants' elbows can remain near the waist.* Adjust workstations so employees' elbows can be near the body and arms nearly perpendicular to the floor.* Add a wrist pad to make sure that employee's wrists are nearly straight when working at a computer, without furniture edges digging into wrists or forearms.* Arrange the monitor so the top line of typing is at eye level, and the employee can see the screen clearly without leaning forward. (A few telephone books can do the trick.)* Provide headsets for employees who answer phones and type at the same time.* Install adjustable-height keyboard and mouse trays.

If computer-bound employees aren't your problem, check out specific solutions for particular industries, listed by SIC code at http://www.osha-slc.gov/SLTC/ergonomics/index.html. Additional information is available at http://www.osha-slc.gov/SLTC/ergonomics/additional_references.htmlBy Alison Stein Wellner Return to top


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