Food Engineering

Labor Department gathering information on workplace ergonomics

March 22, 2003
Is Labor Department Secretary Elaine Chao thinking of reviving the issue of workplace ergonomics? Seems so. The Labor Department held three forums on the issue in July in Washington, D.C., Chicago and Stanford, Calif.

Chao has also held informal discussions with groups interested in the issue over the past several months, and is expected to decide next month whether or not to regulate workplace conditions that may cause repetitive stress injuries.

In March, Congress reversed an OSHA ergonomics standard that many business groups characterized as too vague and costly. Since then, Chao has outlined principles for tackling ergonomics that would emphasize prevention; sound science; incentives; flexibility; feasibility and clarity. In testimony before the U.S. Senate last spring, she urged lawmakers not to set an artificial deadline for future ergonomics regulations, noting that the previous standard was rushed "in an unreasonable period of time" and therefore destined for failure.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 582,300 musculoskeletal injuries that resulted in employees missing time from work in 1999 (the last year for which statistics were available.) That was down from 1998 figures showing 592,500 such injuries and 1993 figures showing 763,000 injuries.

Food organizations like the American Meat Institute support a flexible, common sense approach to worker safety and health that is industry specific.