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OSHA Getting Tougher About Ergonomics 126

Pfhreakaz0id writes "Looks like the U.S. government is starting to (seriously) look at workplace injuires. See the story at CNN. Labor Secretary Alexis Herman says, 'Real people are suffering real injuries that can disable their bodies and destroy their lives.' Amen. Under the rules, a worker who has an ergonomic injury diagnosed by a doctor would be entitled to have the work environment fixed to relieve the cause -- by changing the height of an assembly line or computer keyboard, for example. "
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OSHA Getting Tougher About Ergonomics

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  • Great! Maybe I can finally get the corporation to install somthing besides cubes and bad chairs. (http:\\ :-)
  • I'd like to know what obligates the employer to change his business procedures to accomodate physically unfit employees. Sure, if your business environment is unsafe or harmful to the employee, but really now, if you dont like it, quit and find another job. Companies would be fighting one another tooth and nail to provide an awesome work environment if people who had bad work environments quit and looked for another job.

    Theres no reason an employer should have to provide special workstations for employees who have a problem typing all day long. Why in the world would you want to continue a job as a typist when you have CTS? That's just plain stupid.
  • by EngrBohn ( 5364 ) on Monday November 22, 1999 @11:36AM (#1511982)
    If the injuries are severe enough, the Americans with Disabilities Act takes effect. For example:
    • Under ADA, my organization was required to arrange for a 35" TV to be attached to a PC running in 640x480 mode so that he could use the PC (granted, this wasn't due to work-related injuries).
    • Someone I work with has carpal-tunnel syndrome so bad (this is a work-related injury) that our organization was required to arrange for voice-recognition SW & headset for her -- the good side is she can now prepare documents far, far faster than anyone else can.
    This move is clearly intended to prevent work-related injuries from getting so bad that ADA kicks in.
    Christopher A. Bohn
  • And if my horses escape, will they also close the barn door?

    This is ridiculous: I have to sustain an actual injury (and have it treated) before anything can be done? That's like saying "IF you splash the cleaning fluid on your face and it eats away all your flesh AND a doctor verifies that you have no flesh on your face THEN you (but only you) can stop using the industrial bleach."
  • You mean they haven't been taking it seriously until now?
    Man they are slow =(
    I hope I'm not lying when I'm saying that the swedish government is really focusing on it.. at least that's the impression I got. If you have another story please correct me =)
  • So now employers will be forced to hire workers that fit a specific height requirement. Then the vertically challenged (I just love being P.C.) will sue because they were discriminated against.

    I'm sure there were well intended purposes for this but unless it's tightly regulated it'll be another out of control loop hole for the 'lawsuit lottery'.
  • First off, properly used, the "normal" mouse is just fine. I have mine set about 12" from the edge of my desk and I lay my whole forearm on the desk for support. At home I have a chair with arms for support.

    The buttons on this pen seem like they would take some real getting used to.

    And now for more of the same...

    The Freepen site was very interesting, even though I my browser supports both text and graphics, the good folks at FreePen thought I needed Flash to display their menu.

    While a whizbang menu it was, I expect more than just good looks for the time it took to download. For instance, when I hit the back button in my browser, the 85k(!) Flash menu didn't catch that I wasn't viewing the same page anymore.

    Also, they claim that there were no repetive stress injuries before computers...umm...there were none, or they weren't reported/known as such. I seem to recall hearing that typists in the '20s and '30s frequently had wrist pain. They also imply that using a pen is always better than the mouse.

    I don't know about you but my hand *hurts* after 20 minutes of writing. I surf all day and not have my wrist/hand hurt. (College essay tests were hell. :-(

    i just don't think that the pen is going to help the problem any...seems like the Logitech and MS ergo mice are a better solution (where the wrist is allowed to maintain a "neutral" position.)
  • by Cheerio Boy ( 82178 ) on Monday November 22, 1999 @11:48AM (#1511988) Homepage Journal
    The point is NOT to penalize the employers but to get them to change the environment. Currently many employers figure that they don't have to worry about changing the environment because they feel that they can always hire someone else more desperate than the previous employee to do the same job. This is one of those cases where self-regulation either is not being applied or hasn't worked. When your company can't regulate itself - you can sure bet that someone from the outside will regulate it for you. As for physically unfit employees I feel the same way you do. If the injury is because of bad fitness then yes, the employer should be able to say "get healthy" and not pay a dime. Sounds cruel but it's how is needs to be done. We clamor about how people are taking responsibility out of our hands but we don't do anything to take charge of our own situations. And in case someone wants to say "sure he's probably healthy" I'm 5 feet 8 inches and weigh 240 lbs with a 200 count of cholesterol. Do I have health problems - yes. Do I let them interfere with my job - no.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I'd like to know what obligates the employer to change his business procedures to accomodate physically unfit employees. Sure, if your business environment is unsafe or harmful to the employee, but really now, if you dont like it, quit and find another job. Coal Mining Companies would be fighting one another tooth and nail to provide an awesome work environment if people who had bad work environments quit and looked for another job.

    There's no reason an employer should have to provide oxygen for employees who have a problem breathing all day long. Why in the world would you want to continue a job as a coal miner when you have Black Lung? That's just plain stupid.

    No, I think that you are the one that is stupid...
  • by twitter ( 104583 ) on Monday November 22, 1999 @11:50AM (#1511990) Homepage Journal
    The proposed rules don't even sound good in theory. The NYT is running an article on this too (here) []. Among other things, the Administration is not even waiting for the return of the NSF study they ordered. The threshold for action is very low, one accident, and predicted costs are up to $18 billion dolars.

    A good friend of mine designs workstations for large companies and can see that this is not going to do anyone much good. They've been spending a ton of money on this already, throwing out pefectly good funiture for new more "ergonomic" stuff. Mostly, it's been going to overwheight whiners who would be better off if they simply exercised and tried to keep healthy. A thousand dollar chair won't solve their problems. Data entry people and others who could really benifit won't.

    On the blue colar front, the low threshold will waste more than it fixes. As a former RPS PM loader, I can assure everyone that manual labor will wear you out regardless of back protectors, converyor belts, bells, whistles, or a federally mandated desk jockey! No amount of coaching can prevent accidents, and people who lift 50lb boxes all day will eventually suffer back problems.

  • Some countries are ahead of you. The TCO 95 certification set standards for economy, ergonomics and environment, and it has become the standard for monitors worldwide. TCO has now finished the TCO 99 certification [] for printers, copiers and faxes. These specifications are much stricter than for instance the American EnergyStar.

    Unfortunately, when TCO was going to make cheap computers available for their members, the printers offered in the package were not TCO 99 marked, because those would have made the computers too expensive. Oops. Back to the drawing board.

    I still think its a good idea though. We love computers, but we must consider the toll on people and especially the enviroment.

    ************************************************ ***

  • Maybe because you should never have to risk getting CTS in the first place, by forcing all the companies to have ergonomic workplaces a lot of people will live a better life.
  • I think the goals of the new standards are to provide companies with more incentives to fix their workplace before injuries occur because now punishments are more severe if an injury occurs. The reason why you have to be injured before the new law kicks in is that you can't really legislate something without clearly defined parameters. Mandating an "ergonomically safe" working environment would be impossible. It could never be properly defined in legislature, while an injury can be defined.
  • by pen ( 7191 )
    Great! Now I can sue my employer for making me admin Windows machines...


  • by sirwired ( 27582 ) on Monday November 22, 1999 @11:56AM (#1511997)
    The reason for this is the legal principle that employers should not have a workplace that causes injury to the employees if the injuries can be easily prevented. Since the damage is already done by the time symptoms appear with many cases of CTS, regulations to prevent these injuries from happening in the workplace make a lot of sense. For many typists not in the IT industry (like secretaries), the "take this job and shove it" approach can be a disaster if the job market in your area is not exactly thriving. I don't think it is too much to ask for employers to purchase ergonomic workstations and I/O equipment.

    As an analog to this situation think about a coal miner in Nowhere, WV, where the job market is in the toilet. If the only jobs avail. are in coal mines, do you think it is right for a mining company to negelect basic safety measures simply because the employees are free to quit if they think they have an unacceptable likelihood of dying? Yes, you won't die from typing too much, but you can suffer crippling injuries that are not too expensive to prevent.
  • by taniwha ( 70410 ) on Monday November 22, 1999 @11:57AM (#1511998) Homepage Journal
    Ah! but I think that this is aimed at environments that are unsafe for employees. If you're working a chicken processing line in a small town in the rust-belt where there's no other work you can't just quit and find another job - and if 10% of all the people working on the line come down with an RSI then it's patently unsafe.

    I think that these regulations are targetted at 2 sorts of workplaces - large ones where there is a known history of RSI-related problems (like the aforementioned poultry place) - these will have to make proactive changes to protect their employees - just like say a coal mine where people suffer from black lung disease would be required to provide clean air.

    The second are small places where individuals come down with particular problems - for example if I come down with tendonitis (as I have for the past 10 years) because I'm a programmer then my employer will be required to take reasonable steps to protect me from health problems resulting from me performing my job - in my case a chair that comes to the right height and a trackball instead of a mouse seems to do the trick.

    I think that one of the more general problems with RSIs is that they've only recently been recognised as something real - primarily because a bunch of white collar workers like me started coming down with them - before that induestry quietly burned through the chicken workers of the world without a big stink being raised

  • Please! Pour some scalding hot grits down your pants! It'll be fun for all of us! While you're at it, how about a nice big bottle of nitric acid? That'll leave some scars to show the chicks! (If it leaves any flesh-like substance intact at all!)

    But don't forget that most hospitals don't have in-room internet connections yet, so I guess you won't be able to post to /. all day long..

    (The first post was funny. The second was slightly funny. The third was tired. The fourth deserves punishment, even if it has been 'Hand-Crafted' to stay on-topic.)
  • Now maybe i'm just lucky or figured out how to type and sue my mouse where my wrists didn't hurt at the end of the day. I've been typing and mousing away for a good 15 years now.
    I'm sure there are cases where this is needed, but I bet the whiny bitches are the ones who are going to get the most use out of it.
  • by jd ( 1658 ) <> on Monday November 22, 1999 @12:00PM (#1512001) Homepage Journal
    Sorry, out of luck. If you can prove you've suffered mental damage from Windows, your employers could claim you were mentally unfit to testify in court that you suffered mental damage from Windows.

    Either way, they win. Why do you think companies insist on using Windows?

  • Hogwash.

    The existence of OSHA depends on the federally-regulated definition of "safe" which is just as difficult to define.

    Furthermore, this just pushes the definition stage down a level. Now every case based on this law will have to decide "was the workstation ergonomic" without any guidance on what "ergonomic" means.
  • the good side is she can now prepare documents far, far faster than anyone else can

    That is not particularly uncommon. Most of the changes that would be required are actually in the companies' own best interest, but the PHBs in charge are too clueless to figure it out. Much of this is because the cost of a better keyboard is obvious on the balance sheet while the productivity loss an employee suffers because typing is painful is invisible.

    It is similar to the way study after study has shown that programmers working in offices with closable doors have two or more times the productivity. And yet 95%+ of us are still stuck in cubicles.
  • how am I stupid? because I think it should be the responsibility of the worker to find suitable, safe and comfortable employment?

    because I think it should be the responsibility of the employer to WANT to provide a good environment for their workers so that their workers dont all quit and go work somewhere better?

    because I think that an employee has a responsibility to actively pursue a good situation for himself, instead of sitting back and expecting the federal government to regulate away all his troubles?

    because I think that a situation where businesses are free to compete as they see fit is better than a situation where businesses hands are tied by a government that reacts to studies that it comissioned that arent even FINISHED?

    if you're going to sit there on the other side of your little Anonymous Coward shield and call me stupid, you better at least be able to justify it. my opinions are the result of experience and reflection, and you respond to them with an infantile insult.

    thanks for playing.
  • by Durk ( 16765 )
    Kinesis Pro's all around!
  • Interesting stuff, and to some extent, long overdue. However, there are some serious complications implied.

    Ergonomics is an odd and 'fluid' science, which is still pretty young. People are too variable. There is no magic formula that relates desk, chair, keyboard, and monitor heights (and distances) to a person's size and shape. Two 180cm guys, both weighing 77kg, and having the same inseam length, may still have different ergonomic requirements, based on things as indirect as how they walk, and whether they cross country ski.

    Also, consider that no environment, no matter how ergonomic, will be a good solution for someone sitting for ten hours without taking a break. In fact one of the current ergonomic theories is based on the idea that, "your best position is your next one." In other words, staying in one position will ultimately cause problems.

    So the question is, who decides what is or isn't ergonomically correct? If you have an assembly line that changes in height from one end to the other, and someone is placed at what should be the "correct" place along it for their height, is the company liable for them developing back problems because their hips are sloped inwards? Is a company responsible for an employee who developed RSI, when records show that they didn't take their appointed coffee breaks?

    None of which, of course, should take away frmo the point of the law--to eliminate universally _bad_ ergonomics from the workplace.

  • well, if it's aimed at workplaces that are unsafe, thats cool, but I just dont think it's real sane to come up with a law that ends up regulating every company in america.

    I'm not opposed to companies having good (or great) conditions for their employees. I work for a company that has awesome working conditions. but we're that way not because we're tryign to follow every law that comes down the pike regardign employee conditions, but because we dont anyone to quit because it's unpleasant or painful to work.

    the answer to every problem is not "Pass more laws." maybe if the business sector was allowed to operate freely AND people were smart enough to voice their opinions by no longer allowing a company to use their labor to profit (ie, QUIT), then working conditions would get better.
  • No, your wrong.

    Under the rules, a worker who has an ergonomic injury diagnosed by a doctor would be entitled to have the work environment fixed to relieve the cause -- by changing the height of an assembly line or computer keyboard, for example (abcnews). If a company can't fix the cause of the worker's injury, than the patient is granted benefits while he or she recovers away from the job. Basically this legislation relies on a doctor's diagnosis of an injury, not a nebulous definition of "safe working environment", and this is the only way it could work.
  • Why can't people buy their own keyboards? Employers are going to take more expensive keyboards into account when deciding salaries anyway, so in the long run it's going to work out the same.
  • OK, lets take this real slow for those of you in the back of the room:

    1. you have a job
    2. you get hurt on the job
    3. if your employer is negligent, you prove it in a court and get a hefty cash award

    You have now been injured and then compensated by your employer. You have 3 choices:

    1. go back to work and hope you dont get hurt again
    2. go back to work and whine about how conditions are shitty and more people like you are going to get hurt and maybe you'll even get hurt again and we should change policy around here and why is my mouse making my hand hurt and why are these lights so bright and if they dont reconfigure my workstation I'm going to sue again

    (note, I capitalized the correct answer to help you figure out what's going on.)

    explanation/answer key:

    if you go back to work and dont complain, nothing will change.

    if you go back to work and complain and generally be a nuisance; if you invoke these laws to improve the environment, then perhaps the environment will get better.

    if you quit, the company will be FORCED to notice the reasons for you quitting and the fact that you are no longer there. they can rehire some new employee to replace you, but if things are that bad, he'll quit too. the employer will have to make some changes in the environment or he will not be able to retain any employees.

    did you notice that the outcome is essentially the same in situations 2 and 3? basically, the only differences in these two situations is that in situation 3, the employee had to TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR HIS SITUATION and TAKE ACTION.

    so, I repeat:

    Why in the world would you want to continue a job as a typist when you have CTS? That's just plain stupid.

  • IIRMCCC, nitric acid tends to turn skin yellow more than burn (unless it's REALLY concentrated.)

    Sulfuric acid is better because it will tend to suck the hydrogen and oxygen out of organic coumpounds, leving carbon and a few other elements. MUAHAHAHAHAHAH...

    Any CONCENTRATED acid should do the trick, though. (except carbonic ;-)

    That's "If I Remember My Chemistry Classes Correctly"
  • What you say is very reasonable, but I think it is a bit naive to assume that the laws will be applied in such a reasonable manner. From what I've seen, enforcement of OSHA regulations tends to be very much in the letter-of-the-law spirit. That may decrease the amount of injuries in the long run, but it's certainly an inefficient and obnoxious way to go. There's no a priori reason to suspect that the regulations will be any more well thought out for the long-run than companies' current policies are.
  • Your idea works in places where there is a surplus of job openings. However, if there is a surplus of applicants, the idea that business will be self-regulating in this matter completely falls appart as theory and history show. Corporations will not spend money unless they think doing so will make them money.
  • Let me clarify.

    First, there a far more people out there that are _totally_ capable of cleaning up their bodies so as to be in good shape. Period. Quite a number of people, myself included, just don't take care of their body properly.

    Second, there is a general level of health for the human body. Doctors know it, nutritionists know it, event the people with bodily problems know it. This is something that can be quantified and checked for. If the person is not maintaining that standard then they should - FOR THEIR OWN SAKE IF NOTHING ELSE!!!

    Third, I said nothing about removing medical benefits. HOWEVER, if the person is not up to the basic standards of health then something has to be done. This, in reality, is the responsibility of the person in question. It's their body - they have to live with it every day - so they should be required to maintain it.

    As for providing a statement of their general health being an invasion of privacy - didn't you have to get a physical and drug test before starting a job? I did. If the person has a TRUE medical condition and _can't_ get healthy then that person should not mind providing that information to the employer.

    And finally, before you flame me on that last statement, the employer should not be able to dismiss/refuse to hire the person because of a medical condition. The employer should work with the employee in getting himself/herself up to snuff so that both parties can be productive and happy. If, and only if, the person has a true medical condition that can not otherwise be solved should the employer make a large amount of special arrangements.

    Should the employer optimize the environment for his employees - yes absolutely.

    Should he be made to alter every little thing to fit every type of person - no. It's impossible to do that.
  • by dillon_rinker ( 17944 ) on Monday November 22, 1999 @12:37PM (#1512020) Homepage
    From the first sentence of the article...

    Employers would have to correct injury-causing workplace conditions...

    Sounds good to me. Perhaps you disagree - perhaps employers should NOT have to correct "injury-causing workplace conditions"? This has nothing to do with employees who are unfit and everything to do with keeping employees safe.

    Why in the world would you want to continue a job as a typist when you have CTS?
    Because you can't afford any time between jobs. Because you have bills you need to pay. Because you have kids to feed. If you'd ever been in this situation, you'd understand. If you never have, then consider yourself lucky. Not everyone can afford to find a new job. Not everyone has the requisite skills for finding a better job. And no employer should be permitted to cause injury to epmloyees through negligence.

    This is not just about typists, you know. A friend of mine worked in tech support for a major OEM (think spots). She developed carpal tunnel syndrome. Although the IS department had a number of "ergonomic" keyboards and mice in stock, the management wouldn't authorize their use. I was told that if they let some people have them, then everyone would want them. She was in pain whenever she had to type. I should point out that this didn't happen until a year after she had started working there. It is not unreasonable to believe that her work has a contributing factor to her injury.

    I have no problem with saying that if a potential employee can't do the job, for whatever reason, then an employer shouldn't have to change the job description to suit the employee. But if workplace conditions have been demonstrated to cause injury, then I am definitely in favor of requiring the employer to make changes.
  • This seems to be one of those cases where self-regulation would be the better answer.
    The company I'm consulting for has the following policy. "It's cheaper for us to get you comfortable equipment than it is to pay for your health problems, all you have to do is ask."
    The regular chairs here are nice, but the guy across the hall had a car accident, requested another chair. The damned thing is tooo complicated for anyone to use. It's a web-type thing with 90 adjustments and controls. When it's properly configured, it's great. When it's not....

    This is yet another instance where slime-ball lawyers smell a buck and will get on it.

    If your company wont get you a chair because you need one, then maybe you should look for another company.

  • Not to deny or disparage the very real physical pain many people experience, but I don't understand why other people have this problem and I don't.

    I have been screwing with computers for over 20 years, starting with ASR-33 teletypes and moving onward. I slouch. I do not touch-type properly (I only use the first two fingers of each hand). My wrists are supported by the hard surface of the desk in front of the keyboard. I crack the joints in my wrists and fingers several times daily. I have been known to play Quake for five hours at a stretch (mouse + keyboard player). In all, I'm a fairly good example of bad ergonomic habits.

    I have no pain, and never have.

    I hereby offer my wrists for non-invasive study by any well-known medical reseach facility (Stanford's just down the block from me) to help learn why I don't have this problem, and how others can not have it anymore.


  • by Kyrrin ( 35570 ) on Monday November 22, 1999 @01:19PM (#1512028) Homepage
    > Mostly, it's been going to overwheight whiners who would be better off
    > if they simply exercised and tried to keep healthy. A thousand
    > dollar chair won't solve their problems.

    So, you're fortunate enough to not have RSI problems. That's great for you, and I really am honestly happy that you don't encounter the kind of pain that I live with every day.

    Not everyone is as fortunate, however. I work at a job -- not programming; it's more data-entry and information processing -- where I need to spend nearly seven and a half hours every day sitting in front of my keyboard typing away. My employer, when designing the office, took *none* of the standard ergonomic guidelines into effect. The desks are ridiculously high, the keyboard trays that have been supplied break at the slightest hint of pressure, and the chairs are only mildly adjustable; the keyboards are ridiculously small, particularly for those of us with very large hands, and each individual workstation can only be customized so far. After *one* hour of sitting and typing, I was in so much pain that I couldn't even make a fist.

    I went to the doctor back in February (I'd been diagnosed with carpal tunnel previously, and was doing just fine with it, based on sane and sensible guidelines for my home workstation) and got a specialist to order that my workstation at work be altered to provide a more ergonomic work environment. My company attempted to weasel out of things by stating that their workstations already were ergonomic, without providing any support for that statement and ignoring my assertation that the existing equipment was doing more harm than good. It is now November, and I will estimate that I lost nearly a month's productive time before finally having the surgery performed -- a step that might not have been necessary had I gotten the support I needed beforehand.

    It seems to me that legislation such as this is a *good* thing. If we can prevent these problems before they reach the state that mine has gotten to, where I need a total of two and a half months off work for the surgery and the physical therapy, not only will it benefit the *worker* (no one should ever, *ever* have to physically destroy him or herself for a job) but it will also benefit the corporation (less employee absence, more productivity).

    Sometimes, legislation is *necessary*. Corporations are unwilling to Do The Right Thing by themselves a lot of the time; it takes a fairly big stick to convince them.

    As for people who have RSI problems being "whiners" -- I had reached the point where I was physically incapable of making a fist. Not just because of the pain, which is crippling, but because the muscles *refused to listen*. You cannot drive when you cannot grip the steering wheel. Among many other things. I have a remarkably high pain threshold, but living with debilitating pain /constantly/ will wear nearly anyone down. Some people are more susceptible to RSI injuries than others, and preventative measures will only take you so far. It's about time that someone forced these bastards who abuse their workers and claim that their conditions are all psychosomatic to wake up and smell the coffee.
  • This is from quite a while ago and from memory. A company was forced because of some legislation to change some jobs to accommadate women. The job of telephone lineman was one of the jobs. Reseaerch was done to make the job less upper body strength intensive, IIRC changing some of the wrenches to ones with fiberglass shaft, and changes like that. The net result was that the changes improve the job considerably for the men that held the job and ended up costing the company less in the long run because of a decrease in injury/turnover. Moral of the story was that government meddling actually made for betters business practices for once.
  • by timothy ( 36799 ) on Monday November 22, 1999 @01:25PM (#1512031) Journal
    A lot of people posting here seem (despite misgivings about the specifics) to agree with the general thrust of the ADA / OSHA moves toward micro-regualtion of work environments.

    I feel just the opposite, and here's why: by specifying "better" workplaces (certain fixed measurements / ratios or ranges of ratios / measurements for particular situations, say, or specifying the "correct" tilt of a keyboard)
    the government wraps a tourniquet about the leg of new ideas. (To forge an awful metaphor.) They also considerably raise the cost of entry to start-ups.

    There are a lot of ergonomically awful products in the world -- keyboards that feel awful, chairs that suck. Why do they sell? Because in the short term, they often offer an acceptable solution, at least in light of the cost of other available solutions. I'm told that Hermann Miller Aeron chairs are very comfy; I'm promised one soon. The reason that not everyone is presently sitting in an Aeron is pretty simple - look at the pricetag!

    And as others have pointed out, no amount of tables, graphs and statistics can account for the subtle things which make some people comfortable with desk Y and keyboard Z, and others not.

    There's less incentive to work on radically *more* comfortable products if there is an accepted "Good Enough to Avoid Prosecution" level ... has anyone tried a Twiddler keyboard? There's a learning curve (I'm no expert, but I like it) -- bureacratic rule-making tends to ignore things like this.

    Government rule makers often do co-opt some good ideas (think the NHSTB invented the 3-point belt? Thank Volvo they didn't.), but there is a calcification which results when standards are legislated rather than allowed to bloom or die.

    Some people counter this argument by saying that "We can't make compromises when it comes to safety!" Balderdash. I bet in 5 minutes you could think of a dozen examples where you've done exactly that, and with justification -- because a) perfect safety is an illusion and b) safety is just one of many factors acting on us. Have you ever gone 74 in a 70mph zone? Have you ever not worn a seatbelt on the way to the corner store? Have you ever biked without a helmet? Have you ever attended a concert without earplugs?

    I don't like the term "safety Nazi" because I think it belittles the evil the Nazis perpetrated, but it would be accurate to call those who have been so labeled "safety fascists," because that is essentially is what fascism is all about: there is nominal private ownership of resources, but the disposition of those resources is in large part directed from above. "Sure, you own this small business. But unless you buy new (expensive) light fixtures, replace your old-style doorknobs with (more expensive) new-style ones, and install an elevator to the third floor for (potentially) diabled employees, afraid you can't run it without facing prosecution and possible fines. Oh, and by the way, you're guilty. Please direct all complaints to ..."


  • by Pascal Q. Porcupine ( 4467 ) on Monday November 22, 1999 @01:35PM (#1512033) Homepage
    It's probably because you don't touch-type properly. Proper touch-typing keeps the wrists rather still, and involves a lot of flexing of the fingers, whereas the half-assed touch-typing that most people do involves more hand movement and less finger movement. Everyone I know who types as much as me who doesn't touch-type has little to no wrist problems, whereas I've touch-typed properly since I was 8 (I was bored and had a C64) and so I've had various carpal tunnel problems on and off for the last few years. My solution to it is to use programs like xwrits to force myself to not type for very long periods of time and to occasionally switch between various keyboards (a cheapo MS Natural clone, a DataHand [], and a few others) and try to vary my typing style. For example, right now I'm typing with the cheapo Natural clone and using a semi-lackluster touchtyping style, though I've kinda been spoiled by the Datahand's keyboard layout, but I'm doing a pretty good job of letting my hands do most of the work rather than my fingers.
    "'Is not a quine' is not a quine" is a quine.
  • If you see my other post on this subject, I've given some hints. People are really different. My dad has been working 8+hr/day in questionable computing environments, and doesn't suffer from it. (his monitor at home is about 40 degrees away from his body/keyboard line!) I can deal with a monitor that's at almost any height, as long as it's _exactly_ in front of me. My fiancee has to have the middle of the monitor at eye-level, or her neck will seize up in fairly short order. You happen to be lucky (and maybe unconsciously correcting for potential problems) in these regards.

    Hope you lead a long and pain-free life. I really don't suffer that badly, and take steps to avoid injuring myself. However, if we can eliminate say 60% of the RSIs out there by design, then the consequences should (happily!) be more people like you.

  • > This seems to be one of those cases where
    > self-regulation would be the better answer.

    Unfortunately, companies will often choose to save money in the short-term and ignore the long-term implications -- whether out of bureaucracy or stupidity, I'm not sure. It's been my experience that the larger the company, the less willing they are to take proper care of their employees. Take a look at history and the rise of the union movement for examples...

    > If your company wont get you a chair because you need one,
    > then maybe you should look for another company.

    Excellent idea, but idealistic. It is not always practical to switch jobs, and I'm afraid that the attitude is more widespread than one might imagine. Believe me, if I *could* find another job, I would. I've been looking.

    Besides, why should the worker suffer because the company is unwilling to Do The Right Thing? That's the sort of attitude that led to the sub-human working conditions of factories in the early half of the century. "If you don't like it, get another job". That is precisely what OSHA was founded to *prevent*.
  • It's interesting to see all these comments here defending employers who show no interest in the safety of their workplaces, beyond that which is required by law.

    To them I say "wait until it happens to you, or someone you care about!"

    In my last job, I worked crazy hours in poor conditions, ergonimically. Was my employer willing to provide an ergonomic keyboard, a monitor stand, or even a wrist-rest? Hell no, they wouldn't even supply a mouse pad! Within a very short time, this took its toll in the form of ulnar neuritis/hyperextension. Fortunately, their health plan at the time covered specialist care, and I was able to get treatment (physical therapy) for this condition.

    I ended up leaving this employer recently, for a number of reasons (this uncaring attitude among them) - a week before I left, they ditched this health plan (too many people were filing similar claims) for one that had much more limited coverage of such care. Like virtually none.

    I can see some of you smugly nodding your heads. "Aha," you think to yourselves, "he's proved my point - no need to require more of employers, as this chap was able to find himself a better job!"

    Bollocks. My new employer's health plan, like most plans out there, don't cover any condition for which I have been treated in the last six months - namely my neuritis. I have my ergonomic keyboard (that I brought from home), and some stretching exercises which help, but I can't get any further treatment for my condition - all I can do is hope it doesn't flare up again, or too badly.

    It's a glaring omission from current regs that if I lose my arm in dangerous machinery in a workplace, my employer has some responsibility (unless I'm a fscking idiot, and it was my fault), but if I lose the use of my arm from banging away at a keyboard when my employer wouldn't provide a wristwrest, or a suitable desk, or whatever, they can tell me to pound sand with very little fear of retribution.

    The opposition to requiring employers to consider ergonomics and RSI is similar to the same sort of crass opposition to workplace safety regulations in the early part of this century. "Oh, it'll cost too much - God forbid the CEO only makes 300 times the wage of the average drone instead of the national average of 419x. Guess they'll have to close the factory instead."

    Fsck that.


  • Whiny bitch, give me a break. You try to be unable to open a jar or use a door knob and tell me how you feel. There are so many factors that cause things like this to be really troubling. Anyone would try to get things fixed when they can't get up in the mornng and open the tooth paste.
    If a little cash output to make the workplace a better environment for workers I'm all for it. I think that in a lot of cases it's not even a money problem but just that people don't think that ergo factors are important and they just don't think factor that into their decision.
  • No, I think you got it wrong. I think that was actually a variation of the default "sarcastic parody by a jealous foreigner" message, with a little "I'm not American, so that means I'm more enlightened" thrown in for good measure.

    Anyhow, I'm glad I could help. :>

    - Jeff A. Campbell
    - VelociNews ( [])
  • I mean, there's plenty of other areas where people can get Carpel Tunnel/ RSI/ whatever.

    Here's just a small example:Sure, it's about someone working as a phone sex operator, and masterbating too much, but still, they have a legitimate problem, too.

    Personally, I don't touch type, so because I move my hands how I feel they're comfortable, I don't tend to have so much problem with typing for long periods of time, although I'm not 100% accurate. (which I attribute to mental mistakes more than physical typing difficulties).

    And writing with common stylii (whatever the plural of stylus is) hurts more than typing or using a mouse... especially for those of us who don't hold a pencil 'correctly' in the first place (lefties being the most common ones, and I learned to write from a lefty), but imagine taking 3 years of drafting classes, trying to write ANSI compliant letters, and holding your pencils completely ass-backwards...
  • Those of you who think you're going to use these regulations to sock it to your "evil" employer, think again. You're going to pay for the new chairs, the nice monitors, etc., not your employer. Employers consider more than salary or wage when calculating what it costs to employ someone. Things like new chairs, tables and ergonomically-designed keyboards cost money, and those costs are factored against the employee. The higher the cost related to furniture, better equipment, etc., the higher the cost of keeping your ass in the seat. Think about that next time you go to your boss to ask for a raise--he will, I guarantee it.

  • by jht ( 5006 ) on Monday November 22, 1999 @02:33PM (#1512047) Homepage Journal
    Yes, I know RSI is a real problem, and I agree that employers should be sufficiently responsible about the workplace environment so that the chances are minimized that any employee will suffer injuries of that nature.

    That said, I have a big problem with OSHA sticking their nose into this. The business of OSHA is to (if you feel they are a legitimate governmental authority - I have a philosophical opposition to their existence) prevent workers from getting maimed and killed. OSHA is for the construction sites, the meat-packing plants, and the assembly lines of the nation (places where workers are at significant risk of bodily harm), not the white-collar offices. Existing workers' compensation law should be more than sufficient to allow the free market to deal with RSI - if the employer does not make fairly inexpensive adjustments for the benefit of their employees, there will be more workers' comp claims and higher turnover, resulting in higher costs to the employer (insurance, legal, and training costs). It is to the economic advantage of the employer to provide a reasonable environment to their employees. If I'm productive at my task, my employer will make sure I'm properly equipped to do my job in reasonable comfort - if I'm not, they'll fire my butt. My company, as an example, is happy to provide trackballs, ergo keyboards, keyboard trays, and adjustable chairs to try to make the workplace as comfortable as we can for our employees. But we haven't worried about measurements to specific OSHA-inlicted guidelines or any of that crap - we do it because comfortable employees are happier and get more done as a result. It just makes sense.

    The problem as I see it is that OSHA, like any governmental bureaucracy, has an institutional need to impose (without legislative mandate) more and more rules on the workplace in order to demonstrate their (OSHA's) effectiveness and justify their continued existence. Simply monitoring and enforcing a minimum of rules doesn't justify bigger budgets and pay raises for the people who work there and OSHA's constituencies on the Hill. This applies to virtually all the commissions and agencies (like the EPA, EEOC, and OSHA, to name the most egregious offenders) that exist outside the traditional Cabinet-level structure and most of the ones that are in it, too. It's just an ever-expanding mandate - will they regulate your home office - or Rob's, or Hemos' house once it's rebuilt as their next action "for your safety"?

    This most recent Congress has been, by most conventional measures, a spectacularly inefficient one - nothing of any substance has been passed due to the partisan gridlock that's prevailed ever since the Clinton investigation kicked into high gear. And you know what? It's been successful as all hell. It appears that the nation does just fine without Congress passing laws - somehow we're just able to get over it, pick ourselves up, and continue building this economy to unheard-of heights. Coincidence? I doubt it. I'm a firm believer in the general philosophy of "that government governs best which governs least".

    Hey - my cat wants to sit on my lap while I'm typing this - does this have OSHA implications?

    - -Josh Turiel
  • i have been bombarded all day about ergonomics. i think 11-22 should be re-branded 11-22-99 ergonomic day .
  • A few comments on the above:

    1) The employer may notice, but they don't necessarily act on that information. In personal experience, some just don't care. However, if they get enough RSI claims, some policy adjustment is likely.

    2) Some jobs that people may have trained years for require certain activities, such as typing or mousing (graphics/page layout). This time investment is not easily given up because a particular manager doesn't buy into RSI.

    3) While employees should take responsibility for their own well-being, that is mention problems they have with a work environment, it is an employer's responsibility to act on reasonable employee requests to maintain health. I think this idea will certainly raise attention to how damaging RSI can be and how, comparatively, inexpensive it is to invest in compliance.

    Of course, I've seen two very different ways of managing worker ergonomic needs.

    1) A large computer manufacturer

    I was working in a database/customer relations division. Within a week or two of hiring, everyone was given a 20 minute ergonomics evaluation at their workstation. Since workstations included a UNIX terminal, Windows NT box, phone, storage cabinets, etc, everyone was shown how to adjust their monitors/keyboards/mice for optimal comfort. Secondary devices, such as phones and rolodexes were off to the side, but in easy reach.

    The benefit? a minimum of RSI complaints and when workers started to feel uncomfortable, they were reevaluated and adjustments to their cubes (with something like two feet of available height adjustment) were made. On occasion, people with back injuries were given stools and stand up workstations to allow them to reduce stress on various parts of their back.

    End result: If there were problems, there was a mechanism in place to fix them. People stay healthy, the company looks good for being proactive.

    2) Small newspaper

    As an editor, I was on the keyboard for seven to eight hours per day. After a month, I noticed wrist soreness and purchased a gel filled wrist pad that helped neutralize how much motion I was making. There was a bit of resistance in expensing it, but they did. So, I took responsibility for what I could afford to fix out of pocket, if the employer would not approve my expensing of what I considered essential to the work function.

    Of course, chairs weren't really adjustable and the desks were designed well before ergo became a concern. Hence, no one was really comfortable, at least 1 person out of the 8 in my department filled a worker's comp claim, over which my manager complained. I never found them very comfortable, but also could not afford to risk not being reimbursed for buying my own chair and workstation.

    The end result: it seemed part of a larger company attitude to spend as little on employees as possible, regardless of what preventative effect might have been gained. Further, this employer doesn't provide for health benefits until you've been employed 6 months. They aren't exactly encouraging employees to stay and many don't. However, from what I've heard and from what I hear, the situation doesn't change.

    While many employers are concerned about their employees well-being, those that ignore it in the sole pursuit of the highest possible profit margin should have the added risk of civil and criminal penalties, even if employees leave over RSI concerns, assuming the employer was notified and failed to act. Unlike the product market, employee departure (especially if limited strictly to RSI) takes a long time to correct faulty policy. In that time, additional and preventable damage may be done.

    That said, I'd be in favor of allowing companies to claim ergonomic improvements as tax deductions, if they can't do so now.

  • Sure, if your business environment is unsafe or harmful to the employee, but really now, if you dont like it, quit and find another job.

    From which planet are you? Quitting and finding another job is only easy for a small group of people. Usually people that aren't working in environments that are potentially damaging for their healths. A well paid programmer might be sitting behind a computer all day, (s)he often sits at an expensive chair, and might even have an adjustable desk. But there are a lot of low income jobs that don't offer that luxery.

    Why in the world would you want to continue a job as a coal miner when you have Black Lung?

    It must be wonderful to be 14 years old, and still have this naive image of the world.

    -- Abigail

  • Go buy some decent furniture. Or at least a decent chair. Shit man, if you're such a cripple wouldn't you spend whatever it took to stop that? If it's that bad why suffer waiting for the school to do something when you could fix your pain RIGHT NOW! Beg the money, get a credit card, sell bootleg copies of Win2000...
  • I agree that, to some extent government "mandates" can be straightjackets that stifle real progress. It's tough to design programs that are flexible enough to work well. I think government regulations do the most good when they have "targets" and don't specify the "how." I'm thinking of the Clean Air Act, arguably one of the most successful pieces of regulation in the U.S. It specifies goals of emmission/pollution levels, but companies can get there in a variety of ways. They can "buy" pollution credits off of other companies that are below the target, to cite just one instance.
    As for the other side, where gov. regulations actually hurt, I can think of two examples I have direct experience with. My wife is involved in the welfare system. Many of the reforms that have targeted welfare cheats by adding more and more rules actually hurt, because the judgement of the worker is taken away. Honest people who deserve help sometimes don't "bend the truth" around the rules and are disqualified, but dishonest people, who the worker often correctly spots as such, squeak by and the worker can do nothing except drag their feet to slow benefits down. The other example is mandatory minimum sentences and "three strikes and your out" laws, which similiarly takes away discrection on the part of prosecutors and judges to reserve years of scarce prison space to those they KNOW will commit more crimes if free. Thanks to our stupid "drug war", you'll spend serious jail time for having an ounce of weed, but very little for attacking someone with a knife!
    The regs above need to remain flexible as to the "how".
  • B.b.b.b.but... Ayn Rand says that government meddling is NEVER good! It's evil! EVIL!

    *gets dragged off for white coat fitting*


  • From my experience, OSHA is both understaffed and ridiculously backlogged. I spent a number of summers working the local highway maintence department. They contacted OSHA to schedule a safety inspection of their facility and equipment. It took them over 4 years before somebody actually showed up to do the inspection. Unless you have a major life threatening problem, there is a good chance that OSHA won't get involved. I personally think this just another example of government posturing, but IANAFT. (FT == Fortune Teller)

    Scott Banwart
    Better to stay silent, and let people think
    you're an idiot than to open your mouth and
  • No kidding... I too do everything "wrong" when it comes to using my computers, and I don't have any complications in my hands or wrists. I have been known to sit in my office for 36 hours straight when things go horribly wrong at work, doing nothing but typing while rebuild whatever system went belly up.

    Maybe some people just aren't built for computer work? I dunno...
  • This is far to reactive. It would make more sense to come with legislation requiring employers to fix potential problems *before* people are injured rather than afterwards. As to cost issue, that is a red-herring. Firstly, there is ample evidence that productivity gains out-strip the cost of the measures. Secondly, even if they employers aren't smart enough to realise this, it is an employee's market out there right now, so its a good time to call their bluff.
  • Ok folks, just a few important things to consider:

    1) what defines "ergonomic" - what we consider ergonomic today will probably not be ergonomic in a few short years. Who defines what ergonomic is/isn't. This may seem trivial, but it isn't. If Joe Employee is sueing Corp X because he claims damages how do we know his keyboard/chair/etc is not ergonomic - can anyone say DES (Department of Ergonomic Standards?!?!?)

    2) I really appreciate what OSHA has done to make the work evironment livable and safe. However, at what point (and this often happens with organizations) does OSHA go beyond resonable policy and begin trying to justify its budget. All social programs, if effective and useful, cause change and eventually are needed less. Is is possible that OSHA is simply trying to make a case for its current budget or even an increased budget (ie "see, we can't have cutbacks, look at how many people work w/o ergonomic equipment")

    3) Is it possible that the makers of ergonomic furniture/hardware have lobbied for this??? (probably not, but just a thought)

  • The ironic thing is that ergonomics is still largely pseudoscience. Everybody has ideas but there is still very little hard scientific data on what qualifies as "ergonomic." OSHA is just going to pull standards out of its a--.

    I wonder how far they'll take it. Some European countries, for example, have very strict laws regulating the amount of noise that a computer fan can make.

    The problem with OSHA as it is currently constituted is that it doesn't balance costs with benefits. Everybody can agree that a regulation that costs $10 and saves $1 million in expenses/lost wages is good, while one that cost $1 million and saves $10 is pointless. The problem is gauging those in the middle.

    While the benefits of enforcing ergonomic standards outweigh the costs? I doubt it, personally, but more importantly I have yet to see any evidence from OSHA that it will (remember, btw, that actions such as sitting at a keyboard and typing for 8 hours a day -- which I do at my job -- simply aren't "natural" -- human hand weren't adapted for keyboarding and using a keyboard is always going to be extremely risky).
  • My stepmom is a graphic designer for a living and she has gone through the surgery for the injuries, and wears the wrist things sometimes... But still I think that just adjusting the hieght on a chair and knowing how to sit and set up your own equipment does a lot more good than buying ergonomic equipment. Maybe if more employers spent the time to teach (assuming they have learned themselves already) the proper way to sit and things like exercises you can do every so often to prevent things like RSI. These things do happen, but it isnt always because the person is overweight or lazy, that is a prejudice you should deal with.

  • You are correct that it is to an employers economic advantage to purchase ergonomic equipment to further their employee's well being, (ergo workstations being cheaper than workmen's comp) but since many employers are stupid and short-sighted, I welcome the government forcing their lazy butts to provide me with a safe workplace.

    Hats off to your company for being proactive and making the employees productive and happy. It is more than likely your company will not have to worry about the new regulations. OSHA only performs an inspection if someone reports a violation of the rules. If your workers are happy and RSI-free, you have nothing to worry about.

    In economically depressed areas or industries, (like textile manufacturing) the market- forces "quit your job" approach doesn't work at all. If I have a choice between possibly (say, 20% chance) of crippling myself for life at my job or not being able to feed my family, most people would take the job, dangerous though it might be, every time. I would much rather have the government force companies to provide for my well-being before I am injured, rather than forcing them to pay workmen's comp after the fact.

    I don't understand what all this whining is about costs. If market forces would indeed eventually force companies to spend money on improved working conditions to reduce workmen's comp, then OSHA is merely hurrying up the process a bit. What is wrong with that?

    One only has to work at the downright evil working conditions during the height of the industrial revolution to see where market forces failed us. The rates of injury and death in factories and mines were astronomical. Workers then were more than free to sue, but obviously that didn't work too well.

    I don't understand how you could be philosophically opposed to the very idea of OSHA. OSHA as an agency also does a LOT more than just specify handrail spacing, stair height, and a bunch of other admittedly nit-picky regulations. They are the force behind the "Right to Know" rules, which require employers that use toxic substances to provide employees with information about those substances. If you were injured by said chemicals, and did not know otherwise that the chemicals were harmful, how would you possibly know that your injuries were caused by them? (Especially if the chemicals were just mystery bottles of "stuff" making ID impossible.) OSHA also mandates lockout tags, forcing heavy machinery to be disabled while it is being worked on.

    About your comment saying that OSHA was only for places where people are at risk of significant bodily harm: While not life-threatening, RSI can be (and often is) a permanently disabling injury that can completely disable your wrists and hands. Disablilty payments are small compensation for being unable to hold a toothbrush for the rest of your life.
  • Is to replace clumsy humans with robots that don't complain, need bathroom breaks, or rat their employers out to OSHA.

    Anything which makes human hands marginally more expensive means some company(ies) will choose to automate a line, and X-dozen working people will lose their jobs. Then the unions will moan. Yet one more reason to replace people...

    -cwk, who will agree not to sue his employer in exchange for a 10% raise. Otherwise, who knows...

  • by craw ( 6958 )
    I have to try this out. We have been updating our computer monitors because we had some end of fiscal year money to spend, and it was unanimously decided that newer monitors were a very high priority. BTW, I work for The Man! Of course, we selected monitors that we thought were a good combo of quality/price. Needless to say, our purchasing office initially questioned our decision because they could buy cheaper monitors. We could only justify our decision by writing up some plausible reason.

    Now I can just say that these monitors are ergonomic. In fact, I can now buy even better monitors (assuming we have the money). And if someone complains, we might have to get even better monitors. The next thing will be that we have to get LCD flat panel displays as CRT are too heavy to move around.

    BTW, we got Viewsonic PS790's as we liked the overall quality, price, and short-neck design. Please, no flame wars about what monitor you like.

  • As a LAN adminsitrator and former network consultant, I am thrilled that OSHA is stepping in on the computer ergonomics front. This issue is WAY bigger than most people realize.

    I personally suffer from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, due mostly to computer use. In addition, I have spoken with and consulted dozens of other computer users who have serious, debilitating back, neck, shoulder, and arm pain from incorrect sitting posture, mouse and typing technique, and workstation setup. Almost ALL of the users I support have some sort of discomfort, and without correct equipment and training, it only gets worse.

    The answer for me has been taking Yoga, sitting up straight, getting the monitor level with my eyes, and NEVER using the mouse! That's right. I never touch it unless I absolutely have to.

    But typical users don't know or understand why they suffer from their computer use or how to use it right. There are horror stories aplenty in the physical therapy clinics and unemployment lines. RSI injuries from poor computer ergonomics can cripple a person. Make no mistake; this issue is a TIDAL WAVE!

    Those that complain about the poor companies and "why should they have to pay for someone else's problem" are the same cretins who invest in sweatshops. Ask them their opinion on child labor laws and you'll get a good idea of their ethical stance.

    Hammer your supervisors! They would dispose of you like a sandwich wrapper if you get crippled and can't work for them anymore. Make them pay for training, trackballs, and decent monitors.

    And see you in Yoga class!

    -- Aaron, LAN Admin
    -- An Oakland, CA law firm

  • -- SuperBusTerrific
  • Yes, but there are some of us who desperately need the OSHA laws to make our workplace better. I am a support specialist at a public university, not the one my web page is at. Our "workroom", where my desk is, is about 20'x10', and contains three full-time people, with no partitions between us.

    There is one window, which only one of us can see out of. The room is ONE electrical circuit, housing twelve computers and monitors, a switch, two mini-refrigerators, a host of laptops, lights for the workbench, fans to keep us cool because we can't even open our window to get rid of excess heat.

    Our circuit is so overloaded, that we can't have all the monitors turned on at the same time (we have several servers in the room) without tripping the breaker. The wiring is a fire marshal's nightmare, now add in the fact that there may be from two to four students also working in the room at the same time, and you have a situation in which fire could easily break out, in which I have difficulty walking around all the chairs, equipment, etc. to get to my desk when I'm calm and not on fire.

    So why don't I complain? Why doesn't the University give us more space? Well, when I do, they tell me that we'll get more space in two years, when another building is done being renovated, and that we just have to suffer for now. Our desks are hand-me-downs that were being thrown out, they're not even remotely ergonomic. Our chairs are the cheapest of the cheap office furniture, my cheap-o $128 chair from Staples that I use at home is twice as comfortable as my work chair. I've requested a Kinesis keyboard multiple times, but have had to use an old Microsoft Natural that I dug out of a closet, because I'm told we can't afford it in the budget.

    In short, I'd love for ergonomics to be law. Every couple weeks, when I get fed up, I get very close to making an anonymous call to the fire marshal to have him inspect our office. I really don't dislike my supervisors, but I can't work in this environment for another two years, but this would at least force them to make some immediate changes or be fined.

    It wouldn't get me an ergonomic keyboard, but I don't feel I should have to buy work equipment to do my job adequately. Should I also pay for my desk and chair? What about my computer I use? The phone bill? The power I consume? I think not.
  • I really don't know if you have ever had an RSI but they really, really, hurt, a lot. I am 24 years old with RSI in my hands from enforced typing at a lousy keyboard for 6.30 hours every day. I was doing tech support for a major technology distributor. I did ask about changing my workspace but the company decided to blame it on the fact that I did some yard work a week before I filed for a change in my space. Absolutly NO!! changes were made. By the end of the day my hand was so swollen and hurt so much I was able to place it directly into a snow pack and not feel the cold. By the end of the year I quit. It is just over a year now and my hand is still not right. Oh sure, I can move my fingers individually now, but it still (a year later) hurts after typing for 20 min. I have to take about 30 min off before I can type again.
    I say it's about time some regs were placed on the office. Hopefully the PHB's out there will realize that the conditions in some areas of the workplace have degenerated to those approching the Industrial Revolution. Go up to Rhode Island and see the old mills and then tell me that these sort of laws are not needed.
  • Poor, poor start-ups. They can't compete unless they can burn through employees like firewood. In case you didn't know, the rate of work-related death in the US was VERY much higher before OSHA was established. Sure, they micro-manage too much, but the alternative is the free market. And the free market has NO respect for a worker's health or well-being. Easy enough for you to say "They can just quit and get a new job." What if all the jobs have the same hazards? What good does it do then to have the freedom to quit? You WILL end up paying for a worker crippled by RSI. Either through increased cost to business or social services and medical care for people who can't work anymore. The main thrust of OSHA regulation is TRAINING, and that is the main thing that is missing from the current office workplace. If people are trained in proper ergonomics, and empowered to demand the equipment they need, they will do much better overall. I don't need to justify my opinion by saying that MONEY will ultimately be saved or generated by an office ergonomic standard. For me, the health of my users is justification enough. But if you need that reason; YES, it will be CHEAPER in the long run to train computer users than to pay for their rehabilitation or care. -- SuperBusTerrific
  • It seems to me that legislation such as this is a *good* thing. If we can prevent these problems before they reach the state that mine has gotten to, where I need a total of two and a half months off work for the surgery and the physical therapy, not only will it benefit the *worker* (no one should ever, *ever* have to physically destroy him or herself for a job) but it will also benefit the corporation (less employee absence, more productivity). Sometimes, legislation is *necessary*. Corporations are unwilling to Do The Right Thing by themselves a lot of the time; it takes a fairly big stick to convince them.

    What you're saying is that you think employers should be forced to pay for it, and that I should be forced to pay for administration of it. If you don't like it, either bring your own chair and keyboard, or get a better job. Your employer doesn't sound like much of great employer anyway, based on what you're saying.

    By saying you think this legislation is necessary, you're saying that force should be applied to make your way happen. I also suffer RSI, but I brought my own chair and keyboard, and all was better. I would never dream of forcing other people to do things my way just because it would make my life easier. If you do, you're a bully, not a victim. You knew you had RSI when you took the job, and now you're being a complete jerk, apparently, because your employer didn't make the RSI didn't go away. And rather than bring your own equipment to prevent your own bodily pain, you'd rather get the government involved, or as so far, get your physician to "order" your employer around. Thanks for nothing. I'm glad you're not my coworker. You sound like a whiner that won't take responsibility for his own good. I agree that not all people with RSI are whiners. But you quite obviously are.

    You claimed sane and sensible guidlines at home, but you'd rather suffer, have surgery, and make trouble for everyone else than to take care of yourself at work, too.

    What does that make you?

  • Obviously, RSI is a Bad Thing. I won't challenge that (I've been whacked by that myself), and my hands have been known to get sore from over-keyboarding, too. I'm working on a book right now, and it's not easy to pound out the words. Handwriting can be difficult for me, and I have some trouble at times playing golf, a sport which I am very fond of. As soon as Dragon ships their Mac version, I'm all over it.

    My concern is with the way the government chooses to meddle. Should Congress pass a law stating that chemicals must be labelled (to use one example from your comment), I have no problem with that. Congress consists of elected officials, who are accountable to their constituents. Without digressing into my personal opinion of Congress, I'll say that if the Congressperson's constituents do not approve of the law, they can make it known to said Congressperson who can vote for or against it. I assume here that Congresspersons wish to appeal to a majority of the people they represent, and will take that into account when deciding how to vote.

    I'm going to exaggerate here deliberately for the sake of illustrating my point, but part of the question when considering regulations are an "opportunity cost" - if a regulation would cost $1 billion, and save 2 lives, that's a cost of $500 million per life saved. Is that worth it? Yes, if you're the immediate family of thse two people (or one of them yourself), but that cost implies that approximately $2,000 comes out of each and every one of our pockets to save one of those people. Is the cost to society as a whole worth it? Probably not. Is it worth, say, an extra $30 per year (maybe not directly in taxes, but in increased cost for goods) to save 2 people? Maybe. To save 100 people? Probably. 1000? Definitely. And so forth and so on. The actual numbers here aren't meant to say anything other than that there's a cost to every regulation, regardless of intent. Politicians are accountable for that - spend too much of my money on things I don't value and I will vote to remove you from office. If a plurality of votors agree, you're removed, to be replaced by someone we agree with. If I vote against you and lose, then that's fine - the people have a different priority and I'll live with that (unless I'm one of the two people not saved - oof!). In reality, I might well vote to spend the money to save those people. Or I might not. It depends.

    Mind you, I understand well where you're coming from - at my old company I was responsible for the network and the people who operated the imagesetters and proofing equipment - we mixed our own developer and toner (we called going for fresh water to mix with "making a soup run"). We kept the MSDS sheets for everything, installed everything possible to keep the environment safe, and installed eye protection kits and wash stations. It was nasty stuff, but we had to do it - again, because we wanted to keep employees. Ironically, we weren't too good about things like wristrests or keyboard trays but hazmat - we had that nailed. My current company doesn't do any of that but, as I said, the goals are the same.

    In OSHA, we have a group that has no accountability to anybody formulating rules based on their need to keep regulating to survive. If OSHA wants to inflict a rule (not necessarily this one, mind you) that has a destructive impact on the economy, they can go ahead and do so - nobody will vote them out of office. Once OSHA was created, they were given the authority to do what they saw fit - and Congress gets to stay out of it. Regulations are better addressed through laws passed by lawmakers, not rules passed by an agency. Remember "Know Your Customer"? Or the Clipper Chip? Things like that happen when there is no direct accountability to the voters/taxpayers. Congress should pass the regulations, and OSHA, if it existed in my world, would make sure those regulations were enforced. Your textile workers and industrial workers would still be protected all the same. That's the beauty of our system, flawed though it is.

    I'm not willing (despite my obviously Libertarian leanings) to go out on a limb and say the invisible hand of the market can address every single ill - that's terribly impractical even if it's technically "the Right Thing". But our ills should be addressed by accountable politicians, not unelected bureaucrats.

    - -Josh Turiel
  • I'm not unsympathetic, I just don't understand. In a normal office (factory conditions are obviously different) what could you do to render yourself unable to use your hands?
    Is it something a new keyboard could really fix, or a new desk or any new hardware? Give me examples because I am obviously unaware of them.

    We live in the most sue happy period and the excessively large awards handed out have just fueled it to new heights. To a very removed observer this just looks like more of the same. The defective part isn't the one most often serviced; it is the squeaky (or in my terminology bitchy) wheel.
  • > You knew you had RSI when you took the job, and now you're being
    > a complete jerk, apparently, because your employer didn't
    > make the RSI didn't go away.

    Yes, I knew that I had RSI when I took the job. And no, I'm not expecting that the employer should make the RSI go away; you *can't* make RSI go away once it's present.

    I *brought* my own fscking keyboard to work. They wouldn't let me install it. Get it through your head -- employers are *not* on the employee's side in matters such as these. They are in it to make a buck, not to protect employee health. And far too many companies are wedded to their own way of doing things. And I ask you -- why must the employee fight to protect his or own health in a work environment, while the company can get away with inducing those damages unscathed?

    I'm not espousing "my way" in the sense that I think that government should step in and micro-manage a workplace. However, there is *no reason* why workers should be given inadequate material with which to do their job and then have no recourse to getting that situation rectified without having to leave the job.

    *How* does legislation that *protects* an employee consitiute 'bullying'? Why does a system in which employees are given *more* rights and *more* ways to get what they need obviously stir such anger and vitriol in you? Perhaps you would rather go back to the days when workers were abused for sixteen hours a day in sub-human working conditions, with dangerous chemicals and equipment, with no regulatory body to step in and say "No, you can't do that" -- the very conditions OSHA was created to prevent.
  • Ergonomics is NOT a pseudoscience. Current ergonomic standards are well established and understood. They can be applied to ANY office worker, regardless of height or shape. I remember seeing books on typing technique from the 70's that demonstrated the same sitting and arm and head position as currently reccommended.

    And speaking of cost/benefit analysis, I could hire a desperate immigrant to assemble dynamite in my backyard for $5/hour. If he makes $10,000 worth of dynamite before he blows himself up, and I've only paid him $1,000, I've made a profit!!! The COST of training him and providing safety equipment may well outweigh the BENEFIT, since I can just sweep up his remains and hire a new one.

    Does this plan pass your ethical test? Why or why not? How is it different, except in severity, than ignoring and/or neglecting REAL and SEVERE ergonomic hazards for one's office employees, with the knowledge that existing legal protection and compensation are comparatively inexpensive?

    That's the way it is NOW. Worker's Compensation insurance, though expensive for blue-collar workers, is cheap for office workers. Even a person who is totally crippled by RSI can't expect more than $50K for the loss of the use of their arms. In most cases, the employer's insurance would pay it. The cost of training, new equipment, and most of all, allowing sufficient break time would be much greater. That's why companies DON'T DO IT CURRENTLY!

    And that's why we need the government to force them to.

    -- SuperBusTerrific
  • I don't see why anyone would gripe about OSHA issuing standards for ergonomics. There are people who know a lot about this stuff, and bad ergonomics really can be crippling over a long period of repetitive motion. I speak from personal experience, here.

    Does everyone arguing against this move think that OSHA should simply not exist? That the whole labor law idea is a silly throwback to days of socialist uprisings? Come on.

    People are saying these regs may cost industry 4 billion dollars a year. That sounds bad, but that's not taking into account how much may be saved in medical costs, disability, and the destruction of careers.

  • I *brought* my own fscking keyboard to work. They wouldn't let me install it.

    That changes things. I apologize. Your employer sounds like a real joy to be with. Not.

    *How* does legislation that *protects* an employee consitiute 'bullying'?

    Because others (taxpayers) must now pay to administer this program, and it expands the reach of the government that much further. The fact is, government is the only organization (other than criminal organizations) that can force a particular set of behaviors on people. There is absolutely no reason to expand the government in things that don't concern national defense. And no, I am not a war-lover. I mean national defense.

    Government programs inevitably wind up convoluted and cross-purpose to their original goals. I have had awful employers that essentially enslaved their employees, and my current employer is the most gracious kind company I could ever dream to work for (and no, they don't know who I am here, or my alias here). Government has no place forcing either of them to do anything. The entire concept of government comes to to force, and those who benefit from that or support it are now forcing their will upon others, because if the others don't comply, they will be dealt with by force... fines, more fines, loss of operating license, prison... and that is exactly how it happens.

    Is this what you want? Your employer not allowing you to bring use your own keyboard is cruel. Forcing them to allow you to do so is just wrong. Sooner or later you will be the target of this force, if you're not already.

  • I think what it comes down to is a choice:
    • A company that definitely puts it's own interests above mine (it's responsible to shareholders, not me)
    • A government that claims it is responsible to me and in this case claims it's looking out for my interests (it's responsible to it's taxpayers, including me)
    Of course nothing's perfect - the company's made up of people, some good, some bad so it's probably better to me than it could be - same with the govt. - so it probably doesn't succeed perfectly at what it does either.

    Luckily for us companies are allowed to buy politicians, but can't vote. And we can vote, but can't afford the politicians (well Bill can but not the rest of us). At some level it's a bit of an impass (though I tend to think buying politicians does seem to have somewhat of an advantage).

  • They also considerably raise the cost of entry to start-ups

    Sure, you own this small business...Oh, and by the way, you're guilty

    The vast majority of government workplace regulations do not apply to companies under a certain size (depending on the specific regulations) so they almost never apply to "small companies" or startups.

    I know it's fashionable to assume the government is out to kill industry and all profit (presumably because they want to destroy the economy?) but they usually enact legislation in a responsible way...
  • by pen ( 7191 )
    What about all the repetitive stress on my fingers from Ctrl+Alt+Del? It's even more profound while using NT.


  • From the article:

    would have to correct injury-causing
    workplace conditions that require
    repetitive motion, overexertion or
    awkward posture under proposed
    regulations the Labor Department
    was announcing Monday.

    With reference to a lawsuit that has been in the news recently, does this also apply to phone sex workers who may injure themselves by masturbating too much? ;)
  • I think the "point" of OSHA is to protect the "worker" from the malicious business owner; Not to stifle innovation. If your definition of innovation is to buy "cheap" chairs & desks and to save a few bucks over your competitors overhead, at the expense of your employees, then that is where OSHA steps in. Read OSHA's mission statement []. They are not out to stifle business, but to make sure you don't innovate with your employees well-being. .

    Go after Welfare, Standardized insurance, etc, etc, but give it break at some point. Yea, yea, Goverment is evil, and the World is coming to and end... yada, yada, yada.... OSHA ain't the enemy you thought it was. It's your friend, workerboy. Keep typing. You'll need a friend soon.

  • I believe that at least (I know it is much much more) half the people with some sort of repetitive problem could have prevented that problem from the beginning, by just not doing it the same way every time. It is up to the individual to request from their employer the things needed to perform their job in the most efficient manner. Buying me a new expensive desk, special keyboard, and a special mouse is not going to help my carpal tunnel when I play video games at home with my kids for hours on end. I know this is going to help a lot of people, but I already see too many people are going to take advantage. I have a little bit of experience in needing special treatment but because of the abuse of others I (a person genuinely needing the help) gets the shaft.
  • This suggestion is ridiculous.

    Who says it has anything to do with physical fitness? Bad ergonomics *make* physically unfit, by encouraging all sorts of problems. In the computer industry it's rsi, carpal tunnel syndrome, back problems, etc. As to the comment regarding companies fighting tooth and nail for employees, that assumes demand for employees, which is why computer companies are currently one of the few industries that pay attention to ergonomic issues. What about people in mcjobs? They can be fired at will, they have no job security, "why did you leave your last job?" "they weren't concerned about ergonomics" "don't call us, we'll call you."

    As to the question of typing, many many jobs today require typing. To say that anyone that wants to avoid injuries *that could be avoided if companies weren't too cheap to essentially trade off their employees' well being for quicker profits* is to suggest that anyone who wants to avoid injuries should limit themselves to working at Burger King (where OSHA regulations are already in place).

  • The question asked should not be "why should companies be forced to implement ergonomic keyboards and comforatable workstations" but "why haven't these companies jumped on the chance to save money and increase productivity." These OSHA regulations force employers to act in their own best interest. What's more expensive, $50 for a microsoft ergonomic keyboard per worker, or thousands in workman's compensation, lawsuits, and higher employee health insurance premiums, per worker. And if your workers are more comforatable typing at the ergonomic keyboard or that specially designed computer desk, they will tire less quickly and be more productive. Although many companies pride themselves on being technologically advanced, we've all seen how the pointy-haired bosses and accountants are hell bent on grinding away any advances that technology could give them. The business world still can't seem to understand that there are more costs associated with computers than just the equipment itself, and often you have to spend more money now to save twice as much money later on.
  • accomodate physically unfit employees

    What's "physically fit", and who decides this ?

    Ignoring the moral argument for a moment (that unfit or disabled people are just as "deserving" as the fit), then imagine what would happen to the software industry if guys had their code junked because they were too fat ! How many really excellent coders do you know who are (by any reasonable measure) grossly overweight ? Some of the best people around for many jobs are also some of the most unfit, and it's a foolish employer that discards good workers on an irrelevancy.

  • How ironic that today I finally got around to making an appointment with a physiotherapist -- I think I'm getting CTS in my left hand.
  • A doctor can be relied on to determine the existence of an injury and how to cure it. A doctor CANNOT always be relied on to determine the CAUSE of the injury, especially if it is "ergonomic". What training in ergonomics has a GP ever had?

    For instance, who is to say if Worker A's back injury is because of bad ergonomics or because he spent too much time raking last weekend?
  • First of all, I believe the gov't has good intentions in mind with these new regulations. But the problem lay in the reactionary response to said action. For example, to avoid potential lawsuits and other issues with these new regulations, it seems to me very likely that many companies will require, no questions asked, X, Y and Z Ergo components be used by employees.

    Now what if, for example, I don't like ergo keyboards (which I don't)? In addition to loss of efficiency in adjusting to the new keyboard (would be a lot of time -- I'm not a particularly orthodox typist), I simply don't find them comfortable... not to mention a wristrest and the occasional position change pretty much solves my problems.

    Nonetheless, to avoid potential costly lawsuits, my company could concievably require employees to use said ergonomic components. If they don't? tough... the liability falls on the employee. A regulation created to protect the employee becomes a liability and potential threat to his employment, should he not comply -- or at very least, gives the employer more grounds to dismiss employees on a whim, "those troublemakers, rabblerousers, who can't comply with policy".

    Am I overreacting? Perhaps. Is it a possibility? Just watch.

  • I noticed on CNN this morning a ditty about voice-recognition companies trying to capitalize on the OSHA-ergonomics flap. So if they get their way, we won't have to worry about carpal tunnel syndrome anymore. We'll just be hoarse all the time. ;)
  • All federal regulatory agencies are restrained under the congressional laws which created them. If congress wishes to override their actions, they may do so at will. All regulatory agencies have mandated public comment periods, which also give congress time to act. The reason that not all federal rules are spelled out in laws is that many of them take large amounts of specific technical knowledge and years of experience that would be impossible for congress to accrue.

    It is true that a price must be attacted to human life, but the cost in this case is not that great. Every billion that the regulation costs is approx. $5 per worker. (Assuming approx. 200 million jobs in the U.S.) If the ergo requirements end up costing $100 billion, that is only $500 per employee. I don't think this is going to have a catastrophic effect on American business. This is epecially true considering how many millions of workers have a significant liklihood of devloping RSI unless ergonomics are taken into account.

    BTW, $500M/person / 300M US pop. != $2,000

One can't proceed from the informal to the formal by formal means.