Don’t ignore ergonomics: Risks remain, OSHA can still fine

Issue: Repetitive-stress injuries didn't disappear just because OSHA's mandatory rules were repealed.

Risk: Ergonomic injuries hurt productivity and, surprisingly, you're still vulnerable to government penalties.

Action: Take the simple steps detailed below to avoid ergonomic injuries at little cost.

Ever since the Bush administration last year announced that it will encourage, but not force, organizations to reduce repetitive-stress injuries, many have wiped the topic off their radar screen. Bush's voluntary ergonomic guidelines are in stark contrast to the Clinton administration's strict mandatory standard that Congress repealed.

Our advice: Don't shrug off the issue. Ergonomic injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome and back strains can hurt your productivity and increase workers' comp and health costs.

Plus, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration can still use its "general duty clause" to issue fines and penalties if you ignore blatant ergonomic problems. Also, many states have their own ergonomic standards that you must follow.

For details on OSHA's voluntary guidelines, visit

6 ways to ease ergonomic pains

Employee education, plus a few low-cost moves can help avoid ergonomic injuries. Some examples:

  1. Â Keep tools and materials within easy reach to avoid constant stretching.
  2. Educate employees in proper lifting techniques: Bend at the knees and keep the load close to and in front of the body. Use two people to lift heavy items.
  3. Give protective equipment to employees, such as vibration-reduction gloves or carpet-layer's kneepads.
  4. For office workers, position computer monitors below eye level in front of them, tilted back and away like a book. Turn screens away from window glare.
  5. Use down-sloping keyboards and, when typing, extend wrists straight, not flexed up or down. Provide chairs with good lower-back support and adjustable height.
  6. Provide and encourage "microbreaks" to let workers move and stretch. Instruct them to massage hands and wrists occasionally.

Free Report: Ergonomic solutions for computer workers

Learn the proper use and positioning of chairs, keyboards, monitors and lighting in our E-visory report, Computer Workstations: Ergonomic Solutions. For a free copy, go to