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.
Why is back pain or a knee injury annoying to one person and sheer agony to another? Turns out, an individual's tolerance to pain is as unique as the person, and is shaped by some surprising biological factors, as well as some psychological factors that we can actually try to control.
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.