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Carpal tunnel standards at center of OSHA budget debate

One purpose of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration is for the regulation and enforcement of health and safety standards in workplaces. In other instances, OSHA will create or update rules for workplaces in order to continually promote workplace safety.

Over 10 years ago, OSHA issued a rule that centered on ergonomics and injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome. Over the next several years, Congress repealed the standard. But now the ergonomics standard is once again an area of contention as Congress begins to make budget proposals.

Carpal tunnel syndrome, most often thought of as an injury related to computer use, is actually a chronic ailment that can develop in any occupation where there is a lot of repetitive motion. Though not visible to the naked eye, carpal tunnel can cause a worker a lot of pain. It can greatly diminish an employee's ability to work, especially if the job entails a lot of repetitive force.

The debate is whether employers need to record when a repetitive motion injury occurs. OSHA believes that this practice would help protect workers and their jobs. The opposing argument is that employers and employees may not know whether the carpal tunnel developed because of work or from something unrelated.

The focus on the ergonomics standards were the result of the budget cuts that some members of Congress are proposing for OSHA. According to the article, the cuts would decrease OSHA's budget by about 40 percent for the duration of the year.

What does this mean? It means that OSHA would have fewer resources to investigate and enforce health standards if a work accident occurred. With less regulation, the risk of being injured on-the-job may increase for workers.

Source: NPR online, "OSHA Budget Cut Plan Spotlights Regulatory Debate," Brian Naylor, 01 March 2011

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