Speaking at ErgoWeb’s recent Workplace Ergonomics Training Course, Emil Golias explained what OSHA’s responsibility is in ergonomics. A member of OSHA’s Health Response Team in Salt Lake City, Mr. Golias has extensive worksite experience and specializes in unusual cases.
“One of the worst cases I’ve seen was a company that ran a bone-yard. Employees were having their top rib cut out to relieve pressure created from hanging large pieces of meat above their heads,” explained Golias. It was a short-term solution created by a doctor who received his surgery fee and the employer who was able to get an employee back to work. Finally a worker contacted OSHA because he feared the surgery. The inspectors simply moved the bone bin to a lower, more ergonomic position, which relieved pressure and alleviated the pain.
The problem from OSHA’s perspective is that workplace design has failed to rely on the applied science of ergonomics. This has resulted in more than $20 billion in direct workers compensation costs annually. Company workers logs are showing that 60% of the injuries are ergonomic related. “We don’t see amputations and large-scale injuries as frequently anymore,” states Golias, “the largest problems now are musculoskeletal disorders.
Most companies have a dreaded fear of the OSHA inspectors. One of the difficulties OSHA faces is convincing employers that proper training and preventative measures will have a long-term cost benefit. For instance, a major construction company reduced their expenditures significantly after an OSHA inspection. By implementing a back-injury prevention program, they reduced the average workers compensation claim from $15,000 down to $500 per injury.
Golias recently spent time at Yellowstone National Park analyzing cumulative trauma disorders (CTDs) in park rangers that stemmed from overuse of snowmobiles. He comments that, “Workplace design has not sought to fit machines to humans. People forget to analyze the person who has to use machines.” Many of the rangers suffered injuries from long-term use of a machine that was designed for a weekend ride.
“It’s a tough sell,” claims Golias, “Managers and employees don’t understand the symptoms and causes of injuries.” For this reason, many injuries go unreported. In the case of the park rangers, none of the workers reported any pain until questioned. According to Golias, there is an unspoken silence, especially in non-union work environments, because employees don’t want to loose out on opportunities. In addition, there is an acceptance in our culture that if you work, you hurt. Many employees just work through their pain and ultimately make their conditions worse. Another problem results when company doctors don’t diagnose a case. OSHA has found many instances where companies simply rotate employees through every six months.
The need to create injury-free lifestyles for our workers is OSHA’s main objective according to Golias. Work area and job redesign is the best method to eliminate ergonomic hazards. The key steps for inspectors are to identify the risk, assess the risk, control the risk and evaluate the effectiveness.