Monday, January 15, 2001

Ergonomic rules kick in Tuesday

Workplaces face more scrutiny

By John Eckberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Ergonomic awareness in the workplace will get a big boost Tuesday when new federal safety rules go into effect.

        An array of occupations and work sites will come under scrutiny by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration because of regulations that were opposed by businesses and embraced by worker rights organizations.

  A checklist to help you discover areas in your workspace that need improvements.
  Workplace repetitive motion rules take effect this month but enforcement will not begin until October.
  • Federal officials estimate the rules will cost $4.5 billion to implement but others predict that real costs to business of implementing the rules could approach $120 billion.
  • Fewer health-related absences and lowered worker compensation pay-outs means annual nationwide savings estimated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will be $9.1 billion.
  • The agency estimates that each company will pay $250 annually to fix each problem work site.
  • About 102 million workers at an estimated 6.1 million work sites fall under the rules.
        By Oct. 15, most companies must have workplace guidelines, begin accepting complaints about repetitive stress injuries and start fixing problems.

        Some industry observers estimate that new repetitive injury regulations will cost Ohio companies an estimated $4.1 billion, with manufacturers paying $1.2 billion because of the rules.

        Some companies are not waiting for the rules to force changes.

        Ergonomics — or designing work sites to reduce trauma for employees — led the Ohio Valley Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Ripley to buy 50 electric beds, for example.

        Stephanie Kilgore, a 36-year-old housekeeper at the center, welcomed the beds.

        Automating beds means that workers do not have to awkwardly stoop and twist to move patients or do their work.

        “We used to have a lot of wear and tear on our backs,” Ms. Kilgore said.

        The center wanted to reduce injuries, not necessarily be on the cutting edge of ergonomics, said George W. Balz, the center's administrator. “But it all goes hand in hand,” he said.

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