Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders Prevention in Washington State

  Reprinted from The RSI Network - Issue 43 - Feb 2000

Rick Goggins, Ergonomist
Policy and Technical Services
Washington State Department of Labor and Industries

Ergonomics at the Department of Labor and Industries
In the State of Washington, one of the Department of Labor and Industries' (L&I) responsibilities is workplace safety and health. Washington, like California, has a state-plan version of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act, known as WISHA—the Washington Industry Safety and Health Act. The department has recently focused on ergonomics and the prevention of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs), which are the most common and costly injuries in Washington workplaces.

 In the 1980s, L&I recognized the need to provide information and technical assistance to employers to help them deal with these disorders. Since that time, it has worked with employer and employee organizations on the following ergonomics programs:

•  workplace consultations
•  research projects
•  training workshops
•  publications
•  a training video lending library
•  presentations at annual conferences
•  an ergonomics Web site http://www.lni.wa.gov/wisha/ergo/  

 All of these services are offered free of charge to Washington businesses and workers by a growing staff of professional ergonomists. L&I is also working with all interested parties in the state to develop an Ergonomics Toolbox, a compilation of practical information on workplace ergonomics that would include training programs, industry-specific best practices, and information on medical management of WMSDs.

Proposed State and Federal Ergonomics Standards
OSHA released its proposed federal ergonomics rule a week after Washington State issued its proposed standard, which led to some confusion among Washington employers. Which rule must they follow—the national rule, the state rule, or both? Because Congress granted the states authority to set their own workplace safety and health rules as long as they are "at least as effective as" the federal standards, Washington employers need to be concerned only with L&I's proposal. The difference between the Washington and the federal proposals is in when action must be taken. Washington State's proposal is preventive and identifies "caution-zone jobs" which mandate training and work modifications, whereas the federal proposal requires action only after a reportable injury has occurred. A brief comparison of the two proposals is available at http://www.lni.wa.gov/wisha/ergo/rule_dev/osha-wisha-ergo.htm.

Public Involvement
The Washington Department of Labor and Industries welcomed comments on the proposal from people who run a business or work in Washington State, or would otherwise be affected by a new L&I regulation. [Ed. note: This newsletter was issued after the state’s deadline for public comment, which had been extended to 2/24. Transcripts of the public hearings can be seen at http://www.lni.wa.gov/wisha/ergo/rule_dev/heartest.htm.] L&I also would like to hear from anyone who wants to help with the Ergonomics Toolbox efforts, and those who can share success stories about ergonomics solutions in industry.

About the Author
Rick Goggins has a Master's degree in Human Factors/Ergonomics from the University of Southern California. Before coming to L&I 4-1/2 years ago, he worked for Hughes Space and Communications' safety and health department. He is also a licensed massage practitioner in Washington State.

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Last Updated: 11/03/00