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The BBC's Richard Lister in Washington
"The new legislation is aimed at preventing injuries caused by repetitive movements"
 real 28k

Monday, 22 November, 1999, 23:05 GMT
Employers' stress over injury laws
People who use computers are among those at risk

US employers will have to protect workers from repetitive-stress injuries under new regulations proposed by the Labor Department.

But firms have threatened to take the government to court because they believe the plan will cost them billions of dollars without any guaranteed benefits.

Charles N Jeffress, assistant labour secretary for occupational safety and health, said the government had been compelled to act.

"Employees are getting hurt. Workers are being sent home. People are suffering," he said.

Legal threat

The regulations would affect about 1.9 million work sites - one in three - and more than 27 million workers.

Injured workers would have to receive prompt attention
Employers would have to implement basic ergonomic standards, including making employees aware of the risks.

The department estimated the cost to employers at $4.2bn a year - those that need to correct problems would spend an average of $150 a year on each workstation.

Randel Johnson, the US Chamber of Commerce vice-president for labour policy, said: "If [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration] persists in pushing forward this ill-considered regulation, then we will meet them in court."

The National Association of Manufacturers said the law change was unwarranted because there was no consensus on the causes of repetitive-stress injuries.

Costly and preventable

Each year, 1.8 million US workers have musculoskeletal injuries related to ergonomic factors, of which some 600,000 miss some work, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The injuries to muscles, nerves, ligaments and tendons include such problems as carpal tunnel syndrome, back pain and tendinitus.

Labor Secretary Alexis Herman said the injuries were the most prevalent, expensive and preventable workplace injuries in the country.

"It is time we do something about it."

The new rules would cover a broad range of workers from nurses aides who lift heavy patients, to baggage handlers at airports, to people who work at computers or on assembly lines.

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See also:
23 Jul 99 |  Health
RSI: Straining to understand
31 Jul 98 |  Health
Beware! Your keyboard can cripple you
25 Aug 99 |  Health
Campaign to boost women workers' health
22 Aug 99 |  Health
'Health hazards' of hi-tech offices

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