NAII Encourages Flexible Approach to

July 12, 2001

The National Association of Independent Insurers (NAII) is urging a federal agency to take a more flexible, multi-level approach in its revision of the ergonomics standard. The ergonomics standard, which was developed to provide regulations in the workplace regarding the prevention of cumulative or musculoskeletal injuries, was rescinded in Congress shortly after President Bush took office. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is holding hearings to further examine the issue.

Arlene Ryndak, NAII loss control manager stated that the NAII strongly recommends a three-pronged approach, including an aggressive education campaign, enhanced technical assistance and a partnership development, in lieu of another ergonomics standard.

Ryndak recommends that OSHA heighten its strategic educational campaign, especially one that provides guidelines and best practices for certain well-documented hazards.

In addition, NAII commends OSHA for the technical assistance available on their website and suggests that OSHA could provide e-Cats, additional technical links and other training materials that specifically address well-documented hazards that may lead to cumulative trauma disorders.

Ryndak also said partnership development is very important. The NAII, in cooperation with OSHA, OSHA Consultation Services, and individual insurers have launched a series of workshops that have resulted in a greater awareness of the benefits of safety and health programs in the workplace and enhanced a desire by businesses to seek assistance from OSHA and the insurance community.

Additional NAII written comments responded to some specific questions raised by OSHA, including a request for a definition of musculoskeletal injuries. NAII said that a definition of musculoskeletal injuries must include the following elements: injuries or disorders of the nerves, muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage and spinal discs that:

1. develop gradually over time;
2. from repeated exertion or movement;
3. that exceed the physical limit of the tissue involved; and
4. that results in objective symptoms or medical treatment beyond first aid.

The NAII said that musculoskeletal injuries include a wide range of conditions caused by a wide range of activities. Some of the links between activity and condition are well known. Others are not well understood and links to employment activities are still very much in question, NAII said.

Nancy Schroeder, NAII assistant vice president, workers compensation stated it is easy to make a general statement that the evidence supports a causal relationship between some workplace stresses and gradual or cumulative injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome. She added that while the link may be clear when it involves, for example, the hand motions and force required in some poultry plants, it becomes much less clear for those who are typing at a keyboard.

Schroeder cited the recent Mayo Clinic study published in the June 12 issue of Neurology that illustrates many of the questions that remain regarding injuries and exposures. She said the NAII urges OSHA to take a flexible approach that will allow the incorporation of new scientific findings as they become available and that broad presumptions on causation be rejected.

NAII also reaffirmed the overwhelming concern its member companies had with the previously proposed regulations that included worker removal protection provisions, which the association maintains would have seriously impacted the state workers’ comp systems in violation of the OSHA Act.

The NAII plans to testify at OSHA’s public hearing in Chicago on Friday, July 20.

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