Safety Lines

The Newsletter of Minnesota OSHA
Number 37 Fall 2002

Ergonomics Task-Force makes recommendations to DLI
Each year, thousands of Minnesotans suffer work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), inflicting millions of dollars in both direct and indirect costs on employers, employees and their families. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and various states have looked at the issue of work-related MSDs, attempting to develop approaches to prevent and reduce these injuries. However, approaches to the reduction of work-related MSDs, such as promulgating an ergonomics standard, have oftentimes been controversial. The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) has primarily followed the lead of federal OSHA about the issue of ergonomics standards; a few other states have taken action to enact laws and implement rules that go above and beyond what has been done at the federal level. During the summer of 2002, DLI Commissioner Shirley Chase convened an Ergonomics TaskForce to recommend approaches DLI can take to reduce work-related MSDs in Minnesota. The 20 task-force members were selected for their expertise and experience with ergonomics issues and work-related MSDs. They represented stakeholders from labor, business, trade associations, government, academia, health care and insurance companies. The task force was asked by the commissioner not to debate the science behind ergonomics or the evidence connecting ergonomics exposures to work-related MSDs, but to limit their focus to recommendations of strategies that would reduce the number of work-related MSDs in Minnesota. The Ergonomics Task-Force conducted six meetings around the state: four in St. Paul, one in Mankato and one in Duluth. DLI staff members provided the task-force members with background information about MSD injuries. Task-force members were also given presentations from Washington State about its ergonomics standard and from federal OSHA about its planned guidelines. The task-force meetings provided an opportunity for members to hear public testimony and to ask questions about how ergonomics affects various industries. Seventeen members of the Ergonomics Task-Force provided recommendations; the following is an overview. • Thirteen members suggested there should be minimum-education criteria in ergonomics for DLI Workplace Safety Consultation (WSC) consultants and six members included training for Minnesota OSHA compliance investigators. The training would enhance staff credibility when offering recommendations for reducing workrelated MSDs. Recommendations, continues next page

Recommendations, continues ...

• Eleven members suggest enhancing the WSC programs, its outreach efforts and its workplace ergonomics training. More details are listed in the “DLI’s Role” recommendations (below).

• Offering ergonomics training programs to employers and employees.

• Acting as the state’s clearinghouse and resource center for information regarding ergonomics and programs • Eight members suggest establishing for reducing work-related MSDs. a mandatory performance-based Information should be available in ergonomics standard for all industries. print and on the Web. People should Another member recommends a be able to use the Web site to find mandatory standard for only those information about public and private industries with work-related MSD problems. resources available to provide assistance with These standards would base compliance on their work-related MSD programs. demonstrated reductions in the rate of work-related MSD injuries and in removal of ergonomic hazards. • Creating an outreach program to develop and disseminate best-practice information. Industry leaders • Eight members recommend relying on voluntary in reducing and preventing work-related MSDs should compliance, with no state-specific ergonomics standard. be recognized. Industry-specific seminars can be These members want Minnesota to follow the federal developed and information can be disseminated at safety voluntary approach. conferences. • Seven members suggest modifing, expanding or • Sponsoring industry-specific research to explore workamending the AWAIR Act; three other members suggest related MSD issues and solutions. ergonomics should be included as part of the AWAIR Act. • Expanding the Safety Grants Program to encourage employers to use grants to reduce work-related MSDs. • Five members want to increase funding for Minnesota OSHA Compliance to expand enforcement of existing • Tracking the number and rate of work-related MSDs statutes. by industry to monitor if industries are able to reduce work-related MSDs. The reports can be used to identify DLI’s role where the department needs to focus its consultation, All members’ recommendation lists included at least one enforcement and training resources. recommendation addressing how DLI should expand and enhance its services to help employers and employees Copies of the submitted presentations, minutes of the reduce work-related MSDs. In addition to the meetings and the full text of the final task-force recommendations listed above, DLI’s role in reducing recommendations are available on the DLI Web site at work-related MSDs could include:

Safety Lines is a free quarterly publication of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. Its purpose is to promote occupational safety and health and to inform readers of the purpose, plans and progress of MNOSHA. Questions, comments and story submissions are welcome. News material may be reproduced provided the department is contacted and credited. Send comments, submissions and subscription requests to: Jenny O’Brien, editor, Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, 443 Lafayette Road N., St. Paul, MN 55155; phone (651) 284-5261; e-mail This material can be provided in different formats, such as Braille, large print or audiotape, by calling Minnesota OSHA at (651) 284-5050 or (651) 297-4198/TTY. Safety Lines 2 Fall 2002