The health, safety, and wellbeing of a business’ employees is an important factor in its success. Many of us may work remotely, consistently following a sedentary lifestyle. However, if businesses do not promote ergonomic best practices and safety standards, they will lose productivity and efficiency opportunities and may face workers’ compensation claims.
Maintaining a safe work environment and implementing relevant practices and procedures promotes employee health and wellbeing. Ergonomic initiatives may also help your business avoid costly fines and liabilities related to workplace injuries.
What are OSHA and WISHA?
The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) covers workplace safety and state laws such as the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA). The Osh Act requires employers to provide a workplace free from serious hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees. The OSH Act applies to most private sector employers and employees. Unless your business is regulated by another federal statute and explicitly excluded by the OSH Act, such as nuclear power or mining, you should assume that OSH Act standards and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations apply to your business and its employees.
WISHA is Washington State’s OSHA-approved state plan. It covers all employers and is enforced by the Washington Labor and Industry’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH). WISHA requirements are at least as protective as the OSH Act and often exceed those protections.
What is Ergonomics?
Ergonomics is an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use to interact most efficiently and safely. Ergonomics can also be described as “human factors,” with the goal of reducing human error, increasing productivity, and enhancing the safety and comfort of individuals and their interactions. The field of ergonomics combines numerous disciplines, including engineering, industrial design, psychology, and sociology.
Business leaders should organize their workplace to promote safety for each employee. When employees are more comfortable, it’s likely for business owners to see an increase in productivity and efficiency. This notion is what ergonomics strives to deliver on for businesses.
Ergonomic Injuries – Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs)
Common injuries across most industries are musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), also called “ergonomic injures.” The CDC defines MSDs as injuries or disorders of the muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage, and spinal disks. MSDs occur when the body uses muscles, tendons, and ligaments to perform tasks in awkward positions or in repetitive motions that can create pain and injury over time. Common MSDs include carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, and muscle strains. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018, MSDs accounted for 30% of all worker injury and illness cases in the private sector.
While there are currently no specific regulations on ergonomics, employers still have obligations surrounding MSDs under the General Duty Clause of OSH Act, Section 5(a)(1). The General Duty Clause states employers must keep the workplace free from recognized serious hazards, including ergonomic hazards.
Protecting your Employees
To protect your employees, OSHA recommends that businesses implement and incorporate into their daily operations an ergonomic process to reduce the risk of your employees developing MSDs. OSHA guidance suggests important elements of an ergonomic process can include:
- Identification – identify employee activities that are problematic and assess any MSDs risks.
- Training – Provide training to your employees on ergonomics in the workplace, best practices, and the importance of reporting early symptoms of MSDs. Make employees aware of the types of tasks in their job that typically lead to injury.
- Early Reporting – Emphasize reporting early signs of injuries such as MSDs to protect the health of your employees and minimize the risks to your business.
- Control Hazards – To reduce MSD related injuries, implement solutions and preventative measures to ergonomic hazards. This includes implementing safety protocols and procedures, modifying existing equipment, and purchasing new equipment to reduce injuries.
Risks and Liabilities – Workers’ Compensation Claims
Safety violations can not only cause employee injuries that potentially reduce productivity, especially if the employee is temporarily unable to work, but they can incur costly fines. Violations of the OSH Act and WISHA can incur fines that range from tens of thousands per violation to hundreds of thousands for willful or repeat violations.
Washington State law requires all employers to provide workers’ compensation to employees unless explicitly not covered by the law. Workers’ compensation coverage protects both the employer and employee from the financial impact of work-related injuries. It pays for medical care for the injured worker and partial wage replacement payments for those who are temporarily unable to work. While coverage is mandatory, in return, workers ordinarily cannot sue their employer for damages when a work-related injury occurs.
When to Seek Legal Representation
Seeking legal representation is especially important when an injury or violation has occurred, but also important for prevention and legal compliance. Legal representation can help your business develop safety policies, understand the legal risks, and assess your business’ compliance with laws such as the OSH Act and WISHA.
It’s important to remember that you are not alone. Our corporate counsel team is ready to discuss your workplace safety risks, consult on necessary policies and procedures, and advise on workplace compliance. Contact us at 425-250-0205 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Legal Disclaimer: This article contains general information. Do not view this article as legal advice. Talk with counsel familiar with your unique business needs before taking or refraining from any action.