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Oct. 16, 2000

CDC awards $540,000 to L&I for landmark study on ergonomics

Team includes UW researchers

TUMWATER - A $540,000 grant from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will allow state researchers to study the impact of new rules requiring Washington businesses to protect workers from ergonomic-related injuries.

The grant, awarded to the state Department of Labor & Industries, will fund research on employer and worker awareness of ergonomic-related injuries, their workplace risks and the steps needed to reduce hazards that lead to these injuries.

"One of our highest goals is to encourage high-quality research that policy makers can use to shape laws and policies to protect the health of workers and all Americans," said Anthony D. Moulton, Ph.D., director of the CDC's Public Health Law Program.

The CDC selected L&I's proposal because it met the highest standards of scientific peer review, Moulton said.

Researchers from the University of Washington and an independent research firm will work with L&I to conduct surveys, visit work sites and analyze workers' compensation data during the three-year study.

"This study is part of our commitment to go the extra mile to help employers reduce these types of injuries," said L&I Director Gary Moore. "It will help us make sure we're providing the information and services employers need."

"This ground-breaking research will be immensely useful to policy makers," said Barbara Silverstein, Ph.D., research director for L&I's Safety and Health Assessment and Research for Prevention (SHARP) program.

Silverstein said the SHARP study will examine issues that never have been studied fully:

  • How employers learn about a regulation and determine whether it applies to them.
  • How employers get help complying with the regulation.
  • What changes employers make in the workplace in response to knowledge about the regulation.
  • How well early compliance with the regulations reduces hazards and injuries.

"This study will be a great opportunity to learn from employers and workers what works best in helping them reduce musculoskeletal hazards and injuries," said Janice Camp, member of the research team and a researcher with Policy Analysis and Program Evaluation in the UW Department of Environmental Health.

L&I adopted the ergonomics regulation to reduce workplace hazards, such as awkward lifting and repetitive motion, that cripple and injure more than 50,000 Washington workers a year. These injuries, such as back strain, tendinitis and carpal tunnel syndrome, cost $411 million a year in medical treatment and lost wages, L&I workers' compensation data show.

The requirements of the regulation will be phased in over a two- to five-year period, with the first requirement taking effect July 1, 2002. The length of the phase-in depends on the size and type of business. Initially, the regulation will apply only to larger employers (50 or more full-time equivalent workers) in 12 industries having the highest risk of ergonomic-related injuries. They include sawmills, nursing homes and several types of construction. Most employers will have four or five years to comply.

Before enforcement, L&I will provide information and technical assistance to employers to help them comply with the regulation. Ergonomics presentations currently are being offered in local L&I offices and for business and labor groups on request. In early 2001, educational materials for employees will be available, along with consultations and workshops for employers. By July 2001, at least 24 demonstration projects will be under way. These projects are voluntary partnerships with business and labor to identify and share the best methods to protect workers from ergonomic-related injuries.

For more information on ergonomics, visit L&I's web site www.lni.wa.gov/wisha/ergo

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