Feb. 21, 2000 (Washington) -- The meat cutter's shoulder may hurt from cutting chickens and the autoworker' s back may ache from hanging doors on Chevrolets, but are those injuries covered under the Occupational Safety and Health Administrations's new ergonomic rules?
The proposed guidelines define a musculoskeletal disorder as an "injury or disorder of the muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage, and spinal discs." Signs of an injury include decreased grip strength or range of motion, or deformity or loss of function.
On the night of March 28, 1986, Howard Heit's car was struck in a head-on collision. He left the scene of the serious crash thinking how lucky he was that he hadn't been hurt. "And then four to six weeks later, I started noticing twitches in the muscles of my neck and upper back. These progressed to marked spasms of my neck, shoulders, and upper back," he recalls.
The pain never ceased. All day, every day it plagued him. It became difficult for him to walk -- and almost impossible for him to work...
For upper extremity injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome, symptoms include numbness, tingling, pain, burning, and cramping in the arms, fingers, or hands. To be covered under the OSHA guidelines, an injury must be diagnosed by a health care professional. It also has to be serious enough to require medical treatment and to require that the employee spend one or more days away from work or be assigned to a less strenuous job.
The condition also needs to be directly related to the employee's job. For example, a warehouse worker's back injury would likely be covered, but his carpal tunnel syndrome probably would not, unless a lot of his job involves entering inventory information into a computer. An injury must also involve a worker's "core" duties: If a poultry processor hurts her back because she routinely changes the water bottle in the break room, the ergonomics requirements would not apply.