36 ISE Magazine | www.iise.org/ISEmagazine
In 1992, I became the first ergonomist at Alcoas Warrick
Ops in Newburgh, Indiana. I was there at the same time
CEO Paul O’Neill was transforming the safety culture
of the company, as well as its financial performance (ISE
March 2019, https://link.iise.org/ISEMarch19_pottorff ).
After 2½ years at Alcoa, I spent 22½ years as a work-
ers’ compensation consulting ergonomist for Zurich Services
Corp. While at Zurich, I conducted somewhere north of
25,000 job, task and workstation assessments across multiple
industries. I also advised clients on ergonomics issues, includ-
ing the requirements of the 2000 OSHA ergonomics stan-
dard. This was not a popular standard among our clients and
several of us on the ergonomics team quietly referred to it as
The Ergonomist Full-Employment Act.
This “one-size-fits-all” ergonomics standard was intended
to revolutionize the way work is done in the U.S., the han-
dling of work-related soft tissue illnesses and injuries in the
workplace and how these injuries were to be treated by the
workers compensation system. Regulation efforts since have
shown that a focus on occupational-specific standards are a
more effective approach.
Ergonomics guidelines started in 1991 when the George
H.W. Bush administration implemented the “Ergonomics
Program Management Guidelines for Meatpacking Plants.
This was a voluntary guide with the goal of “preventing
ergonomic disorders through sound safety and health pro-
grams.” OSHA was very specific in saying the meatpacking
guidelines were advisory, and that they would “rely on Sec-
tion 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (the
General Duty Clause) for enforcement authority.
The 2000 federal ergonomics standard, issued under the
Bill Clinton administration, was met with fierce resistance
by business groups. Largely written by government, labor
union and academic stakeholders (Linda Delp, Zahra Moj-
tahedi, Hina Sheikh and Jackie Lemus, “A Legacy Of Strug-
gle: The Osha Ergonomics Standard And Beyond,” 2014),
the standard was controversial from the outset and heavily
criticized by business groups that had largely been left out
of the standard-writing process and included only during
the “comments” period. The standard included many of the
things we expected to see, such as job and task assessments,
training and worksite improvements.
But one of the most controversial parts was the language
that superseded state workers’ compensation reimbursements
I
What the
future may hold
for US federal
ergonomics
regulations
Job-specific rules proven
to work better than
one-size-fits-all
approach
By Timothy (Tim) Pottorff
March 2020 | ISE Magazine 37
and requirements for restricted and lost workday cases. Ac-
cording to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at the time,
The final standard also required employers to provide 100%
of pay and benefits for employees assigned to light duty and
90% of pay and 100% of benefits for employees who cannot
work.”
After the 2000 U.S. presidential election changed the bal-
ance of power in the executive branch, the standard went
into effect on Jan. 1, 2001. In March 2001, the standard was
rescinded in Congress via “resolutions of disapproval.” These
resolutions were provided for under the Congressional Re-
view Act of 1996 (the first time it had been employed) and
were subsequently signed by President George W. Bush.
The rescinding legislation required OSHA to make any
future ergonomics standards “substantially different.” Since
then, from a federal standpoint only additional “voluntary”
guidelines have been issued. The Bush administration pub-
lished guidelines for Poultry Processing and Retail Grocery
in 2004 and for Shipyards in 2008. In 2015, under Barack
Obamas administration,
a guideline for inpatient
healthcare workers was is-
sued.
Since 2015, things have
been quiet on the fed-
eral regulatory front but
have picked up steam in
California. In 2018, Cal/
OSHA issued a mandato-
ry, occupationally specic
ergonomics standard, the
Cal/OSHA Hotel House-
keeping Musculoskeletal
Injury Prevention Pro-
gram (MIPP) Standard,
which went into effect July 1, 2018. Cal/OSHA stated that
hotel housekeepers were a “high hazard occupation” and ex-
perienced the highest rates of work-related musculoskeletal
disorders of any occupation in the state.
The MIPP requires every lodging establishment in the
state, regardless of the number of rooms, to conduct annual
assessments of every housekeeping task, look for specific risk
factors, train every housekeeper and supervisor in the state
and make improvements based on the results of those assess-
ments. There are also specific record-keeping requirements
in the standard, including a 72-hour timeframe that hotels
have to provide any and all of their MIPP records to house-
keepers, union representatives and/or the state, upon request.
In our work with California hotel properties that are com-
plying with the MIPP, we find that those properties that
actually apply the lessons learned from the assessments are
gaining in measurable ways via improved work postures that
reduce the time required to clean rooms and a reduced risk
for injuries and illnesses. Improved tools and equipment also
allow housekeepers the opportunity to get rooms cleaner,
reduce stress on the body and reduce the risk for exposure to
non-ergonomic issues such as needle sticks.
The more hospitality properties embrace the findings of
the ergonomists completing the MIPP work, the more they
succeed. In a low-margin industry (average 5% annual return
on investment) a small labor savings per room when cleaning
bathrooms or making beds,
or a higher third-party guest
satisfaction rating, may allow
a property to improve its ROI
over the long term. Thus,
simple changes may improve
ROI by 20% or more.
This is not unheard of.
When O’Neill retired from
Alcoa, the financial perfor-
mance of the company had
improved such that profits had
increased 500% during his
tenure – and the lost workday
case rate had dropped from
1.86 to 0.25.
One lesson from California may be the adoption, at a fed-
eral level, of occupationally specic ergonomics standards
and regulations for high-risk jobs. Simply employed, this ap-
proach may prove much more effective and affordable than a
one-size-fits-all” approach.
As we ergonomists know, optimally we want to accom-
modate 90% of the population. However, there usually has to
be some flexibility and adjustability in the means to that end.
Timothy (Tim) Pottorff is a certied industrial ergonomist with bach-
elors and masters degrees in industrial engineering, plus the As-
sociate in Risk Management (ARM) designation. He is an IISE
member and speaks regularly at ergonomics and safety conferences, in-
cluding the 2020 Applied Ergonomics Conference and Safety 2020
(ASSP). He has authored numerous articles and is founder and prin-
cipal at QP3 ErgoSystems, an ergonomics and safety consulting firm,
and is a BSA Scoutmaster.
Read more on ergo standards
OSHA laws and regulations, www.osha.gov/laws-regs
“A Legacy Of Struggle: The Osha Ergonomics Standard And
Beyond,” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25261029
Cal/OSHA Hotel Housekeeping Musculoskeletal Injury
Prevention Program (MIPP) Standard, https://link.iise.org/
isefeb2020_calosha