Employers must provide a safe workplace under federal regulations. The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration enforces these standards. OSHA developed guidelines to help employers minimize employee injuries due to ill-fitting or unsafe workstations. Ergonomics -- an applied science that focuses on work and people -- involves reviewing a work environment to design or adding equipment that adjusts to the needs and physical limitations of humans. Ergonomic workstations help to prevent repetitive motion injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome and musculoskeletal disorders.
OSHA established industry-specific guidelines to help employers combat repetitive motion and other injuries in the workplace from a variety of causes. Even if an employer cannot find specific guidelines for his industry, he must follow the General Duty Clause 5(a)(1) to keep the workplace free from ergonomic or other safety hazards. Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe workplace free of hazards that lead to injuries or deaths.
OSHA enforces safe working conditions by reviewing complaints or referrals related to musculoskeletal disorders and performing targeted inspections. Because companies must report work-related injuries on OSHA forms, including musculoskeletal or repetitive motion injuries, OSHA uses these reports to track down companies that have high amounts of musculoskeletal disorders. OSHA typically issues General Duty Clause Citations or hazard alert letters to employers that have ergonomic hazards in the workplace, but OSHA works with employers who make efforts to improve the working conditions at work.
Once an employer receives a citation, OSHA can charge a $7,000 penalty. Employers that repeatedly or purposely violate the General Duty Clause can be charged civil penalties, the least of which starts at $5,000 and goes all the way up to $70,000 for each violation listed. The charges add up for employers who fail to comply. When an employer fails to correct the violation named in the citation, he could face a $7,000 penalty for each day the violation continues. OSHA can levy other penalties as a result of an employee's death because of a cited violation.
Workers have a right to working conditions that don't pose serious harm, injury or death under OSHA regulations. When employers violate these basic working conditions, employees have a responsibility to let OSHA know. Employees can ask OSHA to inspect their workplace, or review workplace injury and illness records. They also can ask for information about training, methods to prevent injury or harm, and information on OSHA standards. If you file a complaint with OSHA about your employer, you also receive protection against your employer's discrimination or retaliation.
- International Ergonomics Association: The Discipline of Ergonomics
- United States Department of Labor OSHA: Ergonomics Enforcement
- United States Department of Labor OSHA: Section 5 Duties
- United States Department of Labor OSHA: Penalties
- United States Department of Labor OSHA: You Have the Right to a Safe Workplace
As a native Californian, artist, journalist and published author, Laurie Brenner began writing professionally in 1975. She has written for newspapers, magazines, online publications and sites. Brenner graduated from San Diego's Coleman College.