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Your Union and Ergonomics


Urge your local to sponsor ergonomic training. Unions often can get assistance from Committees on Occupational Safety and Health (COSH)--groups that are local coalitions of labor unions, health professionals and attorneys, and/or university health and safety programs--to develop training. The ergonomic approach does not merely focus on changing the behavior of the worker (e.g., proper lifting techniques). Its emphasis is on making changes in the physical design of the workplace and modifying work procedures to eliminate work-related musculoskeletal disorders. An ergonomics approach involves:

  • Job assessment or analysis to identify risky tasks;
  • Introduction of changes or designs that will reduce risk to workers;
  • Evaluation of the design to make sure that it is effective.

The ideal ergonomics program has management commitment and worker involvement. But unions and their members can start the ball rolling even when management is reluctant to cooperate.


Form a union committee with representatives from every job classification. The committee could organize activities designed to:

1. Educate members about ergonomics hazards and work-related musculoskeletal disorders. Distribute the discomfort survey and evaluate the survey to identify the most common work-related musculoskeletal disorders by job categories. This could help to target priorities. Unions often can get assistance (see list of state COSH offices).

2. Develop an ergonomics checklist for members in order to determine the most common risky activities in each job category.

3. Evaluate records, injury logs and incident reports to track the occurrence of musculoskeletal injuries.

4. Develop low-cost and/or no-cost solutions for the ergonomics hazards you have identified. Some locals have developed short-term, low-cost solutions that members can use until new equipment can be purchased. For instance, some office workers have had students in woodshop classes make footrests from scrap materials.

5. Compile injury records and the discomfort survey results so that union leadership can approach management and ask for a cooperative labor-management ergonomics initiative. If your local is in an OSHA-plan state (23 states and two territories--see below), suggest that the school district contact OSHA consultation for help in developing a program. The service is free.

6. Draft health and safety contract language that might prevent injuries. AFT-PSRP locals have drafted language that protects computer users and classroom paraprofessionals.

7. In non-bargaining states, draft an ergonomics policy that the leadership can present to the school board and recommend for adoption.

OSHA STATES: Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virgin Islands, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming.

NON-OSHA STATES: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia, Wisconsin.

The AFT-PSRP Department can provide further information on ergonomics and preventive programs through the AFT-PSRP Occupational Safety and Health Program at 202-393-5674.