It's called musculoskeletal disorder or MSD, the most common of the serious injuries suffered by U.S. workers. But because
corporate employers fear that greater public awareness would force them to spend more on job safety, MSD has remained one
of the least understood of injuries.
The latest government figures show that more than 60 percent of the million or more on-the-job injuries reported annually
are MSD-related. Some of the victims are permanently disabled, and many more have to take time off from work while their injuries
The victims include computer operators, factory and construction workers, meat and poultry processors, hospital and restaurant
employees, supermarket clerks and many others. They suffer serious neck, shoulder and back problems, chronically sore arms
and wrists and other repetitive motion injuries resulting from work that requires them to be in almost constant motion, bending,
reaching, typing, or frequently lifting heavy objects.
The first serious government efforts to combat the rapidly growing problem of MSD came ten years ago, in the final days
of the Clinton administration. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a lengthy set of so-called
ergonomic regulations that were designed to lessen the dangers of MSD.
The regulations, which had taken three years to draft, covered such things as how long and how many breaks workers in
particular occupations should get, what protective equipment should be issued to them, how their work stations should be designed
and hundreds of related matters.
That was way too much for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other corporate employer representatives. They got their Republican
allies, who controlled Congress, to repeal OSHA's regulations just before the decidedly anti-labor George W. Bush succeeded
Certainly neither Bush nor his OSHA appointees would even consider such impingements on their corporate friends. Signing
the legislation that repealed the ergonomic regulations was one of Bush's first acts as president. He followed that quickly
by revoking 19 previously approved grants that were to go to unions, universities and labor-management groups to finance safety
and health training programs for small business employers and particularly vulnerable groups such as construction workers
Bush's OSHA appointees, many of them former executives of the industries they were supposed to regulate, blocked, withdrew
or weakened dozens of other safety regulations in addition to those covering MSD. They discontinued safety education and training
programs, worked with Congress to cut their own barely adequate budgets and instead of enforcing the safety laws, stressed
"voluntary compliance" by employers.
But now comes Barack Obama and his labor and Democratic Party allies to resume the fight for the ergonomic regulations
President Clinton had been forced to abandon.
The initial proposals of President Obama's OSHA appointees are modest. They're asking merely that employers note, on the
accident reports they are required to file, whether the injury was MSD-related. No such designation is currently required,
which makes it difficult - if not impossible - for OSHA to collect the accurate data required to develop a program for effectively
dealing with MSD, the most serious safety problem faced by American workers.
Corporate employers headed by the Chamber of Commerce oppose even that simple reform. They fear it would be a first step
toward development of an ergonomic safety program that could cost employers millions of dollars to implement.
It also could bring badly needed protections to U.S. workers. But workers' concerns are, of course, of secondary interest
to the Chamber of Commerce and its Republican friends. They';re not much interested in helping working people. Their role
is to further the profit-seeking of employers, even if that should come at the expense of the men and women who do the nation's
Copyright © 2010 Dick Meister