NIOSH logo and tagline

Prevention of Job-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders Draws National Audience at Conference Hosted by NIOSH, OSHA

NIOSH Update:

Contact: Fred Blosser, NIOSH (202) 260-8519
Stephen Gaskill, OSHA (202) 219-6091

One of the fastest growing threats to workplace safety and health — musculoskeletal disorders, which include conditions also known as repetitive stress injuries or RSIs — is the subject of a major conference bringing together representatives of business, labor, government, and academia. The two-day conference starting today in Chicago, sponsored by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), is focusing on preventing these disorders.

The conference provides a national forum for exchanging information about developing and instituting effective workplace ergonomics programs. At concurrent sessions, experts from outside NIOSH and OSHA will present case studies about efforts that have protected workers and saved significant costs for employers in a broad range of workplaces, including offices, factories, health care facilities, plants, construction sites, farms, and mines. The audience includes 1,000 registrants, mostly from the private sector.

“Solving complex problems like musculoskeletal disorders requires everybody’s attention,” said U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala. “We are delighted that our partners in labor and business have turned out in force at this conference to share information that will benefit their fellow workers and companies all over the country.”

“By eliminating repetitive stress injuries, American companies could save $20 billion each year in workers’ compensation,” U.S. Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich said. “The companies at this conference have lowered their workers’ compensation and lost work-time costs by finding ways to reduce these injuries. All businesses can benefit from their experiences.”

Musculoskeletal disorders are the country’s most costly category of workplace injuries and illnesses. In addition to spending $20 billion annually on workers’ compensation costs due to RSIs, the U.S. spends another $100 billion on lost productivity, employee turnover, and other indirect expenses.

OSHA in the U.S. Department of Labor and NIOSH in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services were joined as conference co-sponsors by the National Safety Council, the American Society of Safety Engineers, the American Industrial Hygiene Association, the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, the Voluntary Protection Program Participants Association, the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses, and the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

The conference features concurrent sessions in which representatives from employer and worker groups will present case studies about successful ergonomics programs. Individual sessions address specific types of industries as well as vital program elements for good workplace ergonomics programs, such as tool and equipment design, employee training and involvement, program evaluation, health care aspects, hazard identification, and resources. Discussions from the concurrent sessions will be summarized at a round table session at the end of each day.

“Repetitive stress injuries have real impacts on the lives and careers of workers,” according to Gregory R. Watchman, who becomes Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health this Friday. “The information we will learn in this conference will help us as OSHA moves toward developing a standard.”

“The lasting benefits of this conference will be realized when the participants begin to use the information they have learned here and share it further with their colleagues in other workplaces across the U.S.,” said NIOSH Director Linda Rosenstock, M.D., M.P.H.

The proceedings of the conference will be published by NIOSH later this year. Current publications from NIOSH and OSHA on preventing musculoskeletal disorders are available at the conference. NIOSH materials include a summary of the institute’s current research projects pertaining to musculoskeletal disorders and a final draft version of a primer describing elements of good ergonomics programs. The NIOSH materials are available by calling toll-free 1-800-35-NIOSH.