Keep a Healthy Workplace

Keep a Healthy Workplace

By Fred Workley

Fred WorkleyHave you done everything that you can to prevent injuries and illness in your workplace for 2002? If you're in the business of repairing airplanes you're probably categorized by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) category code 4581 of the Standard Industrial Classifications (SIC) that covers "Airports, flying fields, and services." This SIC category includes most service providers as well as most repair stations.

Have a plan

OSHA could inspect any small business in this category if there are more than 10 workers and either of these situations exists: in the previous year there have been more than eight injuries or illnesses resulting in lost workdays, or if adequate records are not available. Usually any activity in this category with 40 or more employees is subject to an annual inspection.

Aviation-related businesses and repair stations engaged in aircraft maintenance should expect to be visited by OSHA. Most targeted businesses have already received written notification that asks for ways to reduce lost workdays. One solution is to seek advice from state workers' compensation agencies and insurance underwriters. Another is to acquire the assistance of a health and safety consultant.

It is good practice to maintain appropriate records so that there is a complete historical trail in case of future injuries or illnesses that show worsening trends. These records need to be available for inspection by OSHA.

Ergonomics focus

Along with this recent focus on our industry by OSHA, the Department of Labor is initiating a renewed focus on ergonomics. The new approach is to focus on a comprehensive solution to prevent ergonomic hazards in the workplace. The approach should be based on sound science and research and be flexible enough to take in to account the differing capabilities and characteristics of workers and businesses.

OSHA's new approach will be incentive driven, so that there is cooperation between OSHA and all employers. Another aim in developing guidelines for the new ergonomics initiative will be recognition of compliance costs to small businesses through feasibility assessments.

Americans with Disabilities Act

Another area of interest is the Americans with Disabilities Act, a 1990 civil rights law to prevent discrimination against disabled persons. Enforcement started in 1992. Under the ADA, a physical or mental impairment is a disability only if it "substantially" limits a major life activity. It requires employers to make special accommodations for employees who are disabled but otherwise perform the tasks required by their job. Specifically covered are employees who are, "substantially limited" in a "major life activity."

In 1999 the Supreme Court declared that the ADA does not apply to people who can have their disability corrected by some treatment, medicine, or possibly eyeglasses. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that, under the ADA, corrective measures that counteract an impairment, such as hearing aids or medication, must be taken into account when determining whether an individual is limited in a major life activity and thus considered disabled. Also, the ADA defines an employee as disabled only if their condition prevents them from working in a broad range of positions and not just a single job.

Court interpretations

Courts, both federal and state, have encouraged employers and workers to engage in an "interactive process" of dialogue to determine if a disabled employee requires any reasonable accommodations and to determine all options. Generally, it is presumed that an employer has a right to refuse to hire or to terminate an employee when no reasonable accommodation is available for them to do their job and the person is not qualified for any other position.

The latest Supreme Court ruling on ADA was in January of 2002. The Court said that workers with carpal tunnel syndrome who seek special treatment from their employers are required to show they are impaired on their job and, furthermore, they must show impairment in their daily activities vital to their lives. The employee has to make available evidence to win an ADA claim.

The latest ruling was the first on carpal tunnel syndrome (Toyota Motor Mfg. vs. Williams). Carpal tunnel syndrome is different from tendonitis. Carpal tunnel syndrome is from repetitive extension and flexing of the wrists and often has associated pain. It is associated with the tendons, the median nerve, and bone in the lower wrist. It can lead to loss of muscle strength and tingling in one or both hands. Tendonitis is an inflammation in or around a tendon. A tendon is the tissue connecting the muscles to a bone. Tendonitis can occur anywhere in the body. It is often caused by disease, an injury, and sometimes overuse. The person in the case had both.

The ruling stated that to win an ADA claim the petitioner must show that the injuries affected the job and also key aspects of daily life. Justice O'Connor wrote, "When addressing the major life activity of performing manual tasks, the central inquiry must be whether the (employee) is unable to perform the variety of tasks central to most people's daily lives." O'Connor went on to write, "While cases of severe carpal tunnel syndrome are characterized by muscle atrophy and extreme sensory deficits, mild cases generally do not have either of these effects and create only intermittent symptoms of numbness and tingling." The new interpretations narrow the application of the ADA law.

In 2001 there were two Court rulings. The first was that ADA applies to accommodations for performers and professional athletes as well as the spectators who come to see them. The Court said that disabled athletes must receive assistance during competition if the assistance does not fundamentally alter the game. In a ruling earlier in 2001, the Court said that Congress does not have the authority to hold the states liable for ADA monetary damages.

As we have seen, the year 2002 brings a renewed focus on health, safety, and ergonomics issues. Keep 'em Flying.

Fred Workley is the president of Workley Aircraft and Maintenance Inc. in Benton City, WA, and Indianapolis, IN. He holds an A&P certificate with an IA, general radio telephone license, a technician plus license, ATP, FE, CFI-I, and advance and instrument ground instructor licenses.