WASHINGTON — The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Monday that it is considering rules designed to reduce cumulative trauma disorders, which now account for more than half the nation's work-related ailments.
These problems afflict a wide range of workers, from meatpackers to data-entry personnel. Cumulative trauma disorders, or CTDs, develop when repeated motion or vibration damages muscles, tendons and even bones. The disorders are also known as repetitive stress injuries.
CTDs cost $27 billion in lost earnings and medical expenses in 1984, and reported cases have more than tripled since then, OSHA says. The 147,000 cases reported to OSHA in 1989 accounted for 52% of all work-related illnesses, up from 28% in 1984.
Most of the rise can probably be traced to new production methods emphasizing increased repetition of tasks at higher speeds.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, OSHA's investigative branch, estimated that the exposed work force may be as high as 9 million workers.
Recent NIOSH studies found that some type of cumulative trauma disorder was found in 50% of all supermarket cashiers, 41% of meatpackers, 40% of newspaper employees and 20% of poultry workers.
A NIOSH study released last month found that 22% of employees working on video display terminals at US West Communications developed potential CTDs.
OSHA says it will consider a broad standard covering a range of cumulative trauma disorders, including carpal tunnel syndrome, tendon ailments and lower-back injuries. OSHA is requesting comments on whether the standard is needed and, if it is, what its scope should be.