SAN DIEGO -- The Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board voted today to adopt a landmark regulation making California the first state in the nation with an "ergonomic standard"to protect workers from work-related repetitive motion injuries (RMI).
Pending administrative action by the Office Administrative Law and filing with the Secretary of State, the new regulation is expected to become effective by mid-January 1997.
The action by the Standards Board, which is mandated by legislation, culminates efforts over several years to create a standard that would effectively regulate the prevention of repetitive motion injury without imposing a costly regulatory burden on a vast number of employers. The Board, in 1994, unanimously voted down another proposal, citing cost factors and a lack of agreement among the public as to the effectiveness and scope of the measure.
"Because of the lack of scientific consensus as to the direct cause of repetitive motion injuries, the regulation adopted today focuses only on worksites where the problem actually exists and does not impose requirements on employers unless there is truly a problem,"Standards Board Executive Officer John MacLeod said.
The regulation affects all California businesses with 10 or more employees. At a previous meeting the Board, which is composed of representatives of management, labor, the public and the occupational safety and health fields, voted to exempt businesses with nine or fewer employees, citing the risk that the regulation could be overly burdensome.
For those businesses with ten or more employees, the new regulation will be triggered only when at least two employees performing identical tasks have been diagnosed with RMI within 12 consecutive months. Should that occur, the employer must establish and implement a program designed to minimize the condition. The regulation calls for the employer to evaluate the affected worksite, control the exposures that cause RMI and provide training to affected employees.
California is the first state to adopt a standard that is designed to minimize repetitive motion injuries to workers. The federal government had begun a study of the problem but tabled its plans several months ago under restricted funding. While funding has been replaced and the study has been renewed, it is unclear when or if the federal government will present any type of ergonomic regulation.
To support California businesses in developing an effective strategy to accomplish the requirements under the new regulation, the Cal/OSHA Consultation Service has seven area offices to provide free assistance. Offices and numbers include: Anaheim, (714) 935-2750; Fresno, (209) 454-1295; Sacramento, (916) 263-2855; San Diego, (619) 279-3771; San Fernando Valley, (213) 736-2187; Santa Fe Springs, (310) 944-9366; San Mateo, (415) 573-3864.