Ergonomics, another form of government imposed work standards, has been a long sought-after goal of Democrats. Most recently, Congress rejected Occupation Health and Safety Administration’s (OHSA) proposed workplace ergonomics standards in 2001. With Democrats controlling the executive and legislative branches, the current makeup of Capitol Hill represents ergonomics supporters’ best chance at implementing their policy.

During the last go around, in 2001, ergonomics advocates’ legislation failed because they overreached. To the objective observer OHSA’s attempt to overhaul workforce standards seemed unnecessary; they failed to build their case. OHSA is not making the same mistake again and has amended OHSA 300 logs to require employers to record “work-related” musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). The proposal also contains an overly broad definition of recordable “MSDs” which significantly expands which conditions must be captured on employer logs.
To illustrate the haziness surrounding MSDs, let us consider this likely scenario:

My friend Sara just bought a new apartment and asked me to help her move in this Sunday, painstaking work– Sara isn’t very strong. I wake up Monday and my back is killing me. I need the money though and decide its best I go to work today. I’m a delivery man and bend down to pick up a large package. When I pick up the package I throw my back out. Normally, I would have easily moved this amount of weight, but I spent all Sunday lifting couches for my friend.  

Under OHSA’s proposals, nearly any MSD that occurred at work, although it may not have been caused by work related activities, will be tabulated and sent to OHSA. The recorded numbers will be inflated due to the ambiguity about what constitutes an MSD; employers are punished if they fail to report MSDs further incentivizing them to report any and all “injuries.” Although simply recording this data is harmless in itself, the inflated numbers will be used by OHSA to build a case to justify ergonomics implementation. Ergonomics advocates will now go to congress with huge numbers and say “look at this data. We need to act now.”

While OHSA claims that changing its OHSA 300 logs is nothing more than “checking a box,” the impetus behind such measures is to rationalize ergonomics.