Ergonomics rules worry businesses

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Renita Jablonski: The elections are still a month and a half away but the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is already looking ahead to the next Congress. The business group worries whispers of new ergonomics regulations could now blossom into full-blown legislation next year. They're trying to slow momentum with a forum today. Rachel Dorhelm has more.

Rachel Dornhelm: Ergonomics regulations almost become law in 2000. Estimates then put compliance costs at $4.5 billion a year. But Marc Freedman, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, says today's forum will show there's little scientific evidence for regulation.

Marc Freedman: In the question of ergonomics, you don't have those types of thresholds that are established and you do not have any specific remedies that are agreed upon.

Cornell ergonomics professor Alan Hedge agrees there are few conclusive studies in the field. But that doesn't mean that therefore you have to be totally incapacitated that there's no possible regulation. Hedge says most large firms have already put voluntary ergonomic programs in place. Small- to medium-sized firms would be hit hardest by any new regulations.

I'm Rachel Dornhelm for Marketplace.

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Sadly, healthcare leads the nation in work-related musculoskeletal disorders, and yet tends to be far behind manufacturing and other industries in adopting a culture of work safety. Ergonomics is not just about the prevention of injury, but also provides the opportunity to maximize human performance and reduce errors. With the alarming rate of medical errors and financial struggles in healthcare today, it is even more important that a corporate culture be adopted to address safety and ergonomics. It may take legislation for that to happen.

The Healthcare Financial Management Association reports that healthcare institutions in the United States have the worst mortality rate from treatable conditions compared
with 18 other industrialized countries. They also rank lowest in terms of access to healthcare, patient safety, and efficiency compared with similarly developed countries, despite spending twice as much, per capita, as these countries.

In today's economically challenging times, doing more with less means retaining a highly skilled workforce. As organizations trim their workforce in order to curb expenses, optimizing human performance becomes even more important.

The fear that implementing ergonomics and work safety programs has to be costly is unsubstantiated. It's really about optimizing work processes for the avoidance of risk and how to best utilize a worker's physical capabilities. Dollars spent on prevention are actually dollars spent on productivity.

I went into ultrasound about 7 years ago. I work 3 days a week as an echo tech and one day in general ultrasound. I have scanned in pain for the past 5 years. The equipment and probes are old, and when I approach the physicians or my managers they look at me as if I am nuts, and some actually say "its to be expected". Its been very difficult finding ANYONE who cares about the pain we are in. I have had multiple physical therapy sessions and chiropractic sessions, for months I would come home and go to bed to "rest" my arm and shoulder, all the while I would have burning and pain throughout the night for weeks at a time. I cannot sleep without pillows under my arms and I am only in my early 40's. The pain and discomfort NEVER goes away. It follows me no matter what activity I attempt to do, I am always limited and in pain.It has been very dissappointing working in this field due to the lack of respect we get when we do have a problem. I am sure if the doctor or manager was in pain 8 hours a day constantly, something would be done, but it has been impossible for me or my other ultrasound friends to get it across to these people that its not "fun" or pleasant even coming to work. Many of us are looking for other fields to work in so that we can enjoy our quality of life and not suffer for an industry that does not care. Thank you and I hope what you are doing can help change things.

I agree with Dr Hedge, however, the healthcare industry itself is the worst offender. 90% of sonographers are scanning in pain up from 81% a decade ago. There are ways to reduce this but until there is some regulation there will be no prevention or change. Industry including healthcare MUST police itself if it does not want to be regulated.

Injuries and the impact of proper ergonomic intervention is well documented within the field of sonography.


We cover these and other issues within the cardiovascular ultrasound industry.

Tim Thigpen

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