The State of California Department of Industrial Relations began to develop the nation’s first rule addressing repetitive motion injuries in the mid-1990s. The rulemaking was mandated by a provision in a workers’ compensation bill passed by the California Legislature in 1993 which required that the Cal/OSHA Standards Board promulgate an ergonomics standard designed to prevent injuries caused by repetitive motion. In November 1996, Section 5110, Repetitive Motion Injuries, a new section to the California Title 8, General Industry Safety Orders was adopted.
The standard applies repetitive motion injuries that are work-related (50 percent or more of the worker’s job) which have been identified and diagnosed by a licensed physician. Covered employers must establish and implement a program that includes a worksite evaluation, control of exposures which have caused repetitive motion injuries, and training for employees. Employers with nine or fewer employees are exempted. Since the rule became effective on July 3, 1997, Cal/OSHA has issued several citations under it.
Following California’s lead, in May 2000, the state of Washington became the country’s second state to adopt its own ergonomics rule. To ensure that the rule will work correctly before any enforcement occurs, the Department of Labor and Industries (LandI) implemented voluntary demonstration projects prior to enforcement.
The ergonomics rule requires employers to evaluate jobs to identify potential ergonomic risks such as awkward posture, frequent or heavy lifting, hand-arm vibration, force, or highly repetitive motion. Employers will have to reduce employee exposure when it is determined that jobs meet these risk factors and provide basic ergonomics education for employees who work in or supervise high risk jobs.
The rule is being phased in over a five year period, beginning in July 2002. Implementation dates range from July 1, 2002 through July 1, 2006, but enforcement will be delayed until July 2004. The two-year enforcement delay means that LandI will impose no penalties under the rule for two years after each effective date on the timeline.
Alaska’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development has held state-wide meetings to get public input on developing regulations for several safety and health issues, including ergonomics. The Department will evaluate and incorporate public input from these meetings into draft regulations, and propose in a formal rulemaking process.
In February 2002, Minnesota legislators introduced bills that would require the state’s commissioner of labor and industry to adopt a standard regulating workplace ergonomic hazards. The bills mandate rules addressing ergonomic risk factors for awkward postures; force; repetitive motions; repeated impacts; heavy, frequent, or awkward lifting; and vibration. They would cover all industries where workers are exposed to workplace ergonomic hazards and where there are economically and technologically feasible measures to control these hazards. In June, the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry established a task force to review the state’s current approach to ergonomic issues and make recommendations for future actions.