Chances are that some of you were less than delighted to learn of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) plan to implement a workplace ergonomics standard by the end of this year.

I know, I know. No one wants to be micro-managed by OSHA. And, yes, meeting the standard may be an expensive proposition for some manufacturers -- costing as much as $100 million for the food industry alone, according to OSHA estimates. (See Panorama, page 18.)

On the other hand, supporters of the standard argue that OSHA officials have tried for years to work with U.S. business leaders to reduce the incidence of repetitive-motion injuries in the workplace, and have little to show for it. Little, that is, except for some pretty harrowing tales from the front.

Take the case of Walter Frazier, a 41-year-old Harbeson, Del., man who for nine years worked at a fast-moving conveyor belt in a chicken processing plant. Frazier was one of 10 to 12 people working as a "live-hanger," meaning that he stood behind the processing line, stretched over a barrier bar containing flapping chickens, grabbed a chicken by the leg and then stretched upward while twisting to hang the chicken on fast-moving overhead shackles -- a process he repeated once every three seconds.

One day Frazier felt some pain in his hands shortly after arriving to work. In the months that followed, his hands deteriorated to the point that he could barely lift 20 pounds.

Three surgeries were performed in an effort to repair the damage, and now Frazier spends part of each day in physical therapy in the hopes of regaining the lost range of motion and strength in his hands.

In the meantime, he has been reassigned to a job where he weighs gizzards. Frazier's employer has payed plenty too. In the past few years, Frazier has been out of work nearly seven months as a result of his injuries. Lest you think Frazier's case is unique, "Everyone who's a live-hanger at the plant has the same problems," he says. "We all have damaged bodies. We all hurt like hell."

OSHA officials have heard story after story like Frazier's, and as a result, we're going to hear plenty about ergonomics in the next year. The good news is that the proposed OSHA standard isn't as complex or daunting as you may expect. (In fact, some argue that it provides too little, too late.)

And as our coverage in Panorama points out, the proposal contains a grandfather clause that would provide proactive companies with greater latitude in addressing ergonomic issues. For that reason alone, you'd do well to familiarize yourself with the proposed standard if you haven't already. And let us know what you think.

John Gregerson Editor in Chief
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