OLYMPIA—This morning, a bill to restore the state’s ability to address work-related musculoskeletal injuries and protect workers passed the House of Representatives on a 50-48 vote.
“Keeping working people healthy while at work is vital to Washington’s economy. They keep food on our tables, our cars running, and keep the supply chain moving, and the wages they earn keep their families fed and housed,” said Rep. Dan Bronoske, D-Lakewood, prime sponsor of House Bill 1837. “But they pay a preventable price for this work. They pay with diminished health, less earning potential, and hours of doctors’ appointments and physical therapy. We can and should prevent these injuries. It is the right thing for our economy, our families, and our workers.”
Musculoskeletal disorders, sometimes called ergonomic injuries, occur when the body uses muscles, tendons, and ligaments to perform tasks, often in awkward positions or in frequent, repetitive activities, that can create pain and injury over time such as pulled muscles, rotator-cuff syndrome, and carpal-tunnel syndrome, among others.
While many of these injuries can be prevented, under current law, workers in Washington do not have protections related to repetitive motion injuries.
In 2000, the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) adopted workplace ergonomics regulations requiring employers to put in place working practices to prevent incidences of musculoskeletal disorders. These measures were thrown out by Initiative 841 in 2003.
Over the past two decades, there’s been extensive research into musculoskeletal disorders associated with workplace injury and the findings show that 40 percent of Washington’s compensable worker’s comp claims are for work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD). These injuries are expensive: between 2006-2015 direct costs for WMSD claims totaled $3.8 billion, or an average of $378 million a year.
“This bill represents fairness, equity and justice because a lot of the people that we’re talking about are the people we rely on every day and more so during this pandemic. It’s the people who usually do not have a voice, our custodians, housekeepers, childcare workers, store clerks, and those who are stocking our shelves, people who do repetitive work all the time. We depend on them and now they are depending on us to do the right thing,” said Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, D-Mukilteo, one of the bill’s sponsors.
The types of injuries sustained by these essential workers are costing them directly through lost wages and lower earning potential after recovery, and indirectly through lost quality of life and increased familial stress.
Employment Security Department data on claimants of carpal tunnel syndrome found that after five years, the median covered earnings were only 82 percent of their pre-injury earnings.
According to L&I’s Safety and Health Assessment and Research for Prevention Program (SHARP), workers of color are disproportionately impacted as they are more likely to perform hazardous work, experience higher rates of work-related injury illness, and have worse disability outcomes.
If passed by the Senate and signed by the governor, HB 1837 would restore the state’s ability to address work-related musculoskeletal injuries by allowing L&I to reduce these types of injuries with the use of ergonomics. This legislation would protect workers, make workplaces safer and save businesses and workers money.
With this measure, Washington would join Oregon, California, and New Hampshire, which already regulate workplace ergonomics to prevent injuries.