The Occupational Safety and Health Administration protects people from a variety of workplace injuries, illnesses, and deaths. One type of injury that is covered by OSHA and that you may not be familiar with is an ergonomic injury. The term ergonomic injury is used to describe any injuries or illnesses that affect a person's musculoskeletal system. This system includes your muscles, nerves, and tendons. OSHA requires employers to take steps to prevent ergonomic injuries.
Work-related ergonomic injuries, or musculoskeletal disorders, typically affect a person's neck, lower back, and upper extremities. Unfortunately, MSDs are one of the leading causes of employees missing work due to injury and illness. Certain risk factors can aggravate or cause MSDs, such as performing repetitive tasks, lifting heavy objects, and constant bending. While some occupations pose a higher risk of MSDs than others, it is important to understand that employers have a duty to reduce that risk.
Employers have a general duty to provide a safe workplace for their employees. This duty includes keeping the workplace free of ergonomic hazards and taking steps to prevent work-related MSDs.
OSHA provides guidelines for employers on how to recognize and control ergonomic hazards in their workplace. Specifically, the guidelines suggest that employers can prevent MSDs by creating something called an ergonomic process. This process includes steps such as training workers on ergonomics and its benefits, identifying problems before they turn into MSDs, encouraging employees to report MSD symptoms, taking action to eliminate ergonomic hazards, and periodically evaluating progress on eliminating such hazards.
You, as an employee, have a number of rights under OSHA. For example, if your employer has not taken steps to reduce an ergonomic hazard, you can ask OSHA for help or you can file a complaint. If OSHA finds that the employer failed to keep the workplace free of ergonomic hazards, OSHA could cite the employer.
Your safety and health at work should be taken very seriously. If you believe your rights are not being protected due to an unsafe working environment, it may be helpful to speak with an attorney.
Source: OSHA.gov, "Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders in the Workplace," Accessed May 5, 2015