An Investment In Your Employees, Your Company, Your Future

Ergo is Back

On April 5, 2002, OSHA unveiled a comprehensive plan designed to dramatically reduce ergonomic injuries through a combination of industry-targeted guidelines, tough enforcement measures, workplace outreach, 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 ergonomic injuries before they occur and reach a much larger number of at-risk workers."


OSHA will immediately begin work on developing industry and task-specific guidelines to reduce and prevent ergonomic injuries, often called musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), that occur in the workplace. OSHA expects to begin releasing guidelines ready for application this year. OSHA will also encourage other business 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 ergonomic problems that OSHA and DOL attorney have successfully addressed in prior 5(a) (1) or General Duty clause 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 legal strategy developed by DOL attorneys that is based on prior successful ergonomic cases and is designed to maximize successful prosecution. And, OSHA will have special ergonomic 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 ergonomic injury reduction efforts.


As part of the Departments 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.


This approach is based on the principles for an effective approach to ergonomics: preventing injuries; using sound science in formulating a strategy; providing incentives for cooperation between OSHA and employers; maximizing flexibility and avoiding a one-size-fits all approach; creating a feasible program, especially for small businesses; and ensuring clarity, including short, simple, common-sense solutions.

The four segments of OSHA's strategy for successfully reducing injuries and illnesses from MSDs in the workplace are:


  • OSHA will develop industry-or-task specific guidelines for a number of industries based on current incidence rate and available information about effective feasible solutions. This work will take into account guidelines and best practices already developed, including OSHA's own Meatpacking Guidelines, issued in 1990.
  • OSHA will encourage other industry to develop ergonomic guidelines to meet their own specific needs.
  • The goal is to encourage industries to implement measures as quickly as possible to reduce work related MSDs. OSHA expects to start releasing guidelines in selected industries in six months.


  • OSHA's primary goal is the reduction of injuries and illnesses in the workplace.
  • Employers must keep their workplaces free from recognized serious hazards under the OSH Act General Duty Clause. This includes ergonomic hazards.
  • OSHA will not focus its enforcement efforts on employers who have implemented effective ergonomic programs or who are making good-faith efforts to reduce ergonomic hazards.
  • OSHA will conduct inspections for ergonomic hazards and issue citations under the General Duty Clause and ergonomic hazard alerts letters where appropriate. OSHA will conduct follow-up inspections or investigations within 12 months of certain employers who receive ergonomic hazard alert letters.
  • OSHA has announced a National Emphasis Program in the nursing home industry to guide inspections of nursing homes, and to focus significant efforts on addressing ergonomic hazards related to patient lifting.
  • OSHA will conduct specialized training of appropriate staff on ergonomic hazards and abatement methods and designate 10 regional ergonomic coordinators and involve them in enforcement and outreach.
  • OSHA will address ergonomic hazards in its national emphasis program, notifications, and inspections of employers in the Site Specific Targeting program, and will offer assistance to those employers in this group who have a high percentage of MSDs.

Outreach and Assistance

  • OSHA will provide assistance to businesses, particularly small businesses, and help them proactively address ergonomic issues in the workplace. OSHA will also provide advice and training on the voluntary guidelines and implementation of a successful ergonomics program.
  • OSHA will target its Fiscal Year 2002 training grants to address ergonomic and other agency priorities, including support for the development of ergonomic training materials and the direct training of employers and employees to promote a better understanding of ergonomic risks and the prevention of MSDs.
  • OSHA will develop a complete and comprehensive set of compliance assistance tools, including internet-based training and information, to support understanding of guidelines and how to proactively define and address ergonomic problems.
  • OSHA will provide courses at its 12 nonprofit educational partner organizations, know as Education Centers, for private sector and other federal agency personnel, and will develop and utilize distance learning to make training available to a wider audience.
  • OSHA will focus on developing new partnerships to implement and highlight the value and effectiveness of voluntary ergonomic guidelines and will use its existing partnerships programs to facilitate the development of guidelines. Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) sites will be used to help model effective ergonomic solutions. VPP volunteers will mentor other work sites, and provide training assistance.
  • OSHA will also develop new recognition programs to highlight the achievements of worksites with exemplary or novel approaches to ergonomics.
  • 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.


  • While there is a large body of research available on ergonomics, there are many areas where additional research is necessary, including gaps identified by the National Academy of Science (NAS). OSHA will serve as a catalyst to encourage researchers to design studies in areas where additional information would be helpful.
  • OSHA will charter an advisory committee that will be authorized to, among other things, identify gaps in research related to the application of ergonomics and ergonomic principles to the workplace. This advisory committee will report its findings to the Assistant Secretary and tot he National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
  • OSHA will work closely with NIOSH and through the National Occupational Research Agenda process to encourage research in needed areas.