The Ford Motor Co. will redesign jobs throughout its domestic manufacturing operations to reduce repetitive motion injuries on the job as the result of an agreement yesterday with the Department of Labor that included the payment of a $1.2 million fine.
The Labor Department called it "the most extensive ergonomics settlement in the history of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)."
Under the five-year program, the result of negotiations among Ford, OSHA and the United Auto Workers union -- which represents its hourly workers -- Ford will analyze all jobs held by the 150,000 people in its 81 manufacturing, assembly and warehousing operations.
The analyses will be supervised by joint labor-management committees in each plant. UAW Vice President Ernest Lofton said the union will have "full input" into both the job analyses and whatever "fixes" are proposed for reducing hazards.
Repetitive motion injuries are disorders of the musculoskeletal and nervous systems caused by repetitive motions over an extended period. The ailments include carpal tunnel syndrome, tendon disorders and nerve disorders of the hand and wrist.
Ergonomics is the science of making the workplace fit the worker rather than forcing the human body to conform to the design of a machine. Ergonomic solutions can be as simple as raising the height of a worktable or redesigning the angle of a tool handle. They also can be as complicated and expensive as redesigning an entire assembly line.
The Ford agreement does not require the company to make expensive engineering changes where they are not considered feasible.
OSHA last year proposed a $1,956,800 fine against Ford for record keeping violations at its Lansdale, Pa., electronic parts plant. In yesterday's agreement, the fine was reduced to $1.2 million after Ford agreed to the new safety program. The Lansdale plant is not covered by the pact.
Labor Secretary Elizabeth Dole called the Ford settlement "a groundbreaking agreement." She said "injuries resulting from ergonomic hazards will be one of the greatest worker health and safety concerns in the next decade."
Gerard F. Scannell, the assistant secretary of labor in charge of OSHA, said he believed the agreement "can serve as a model for all other employers faced with the need to eliminate ergonomic hazards in the workplace."
Ford spokesman Richard Routh said the company had learned about ergonomics "in a rather painful way." He echoed Scannell's view: "This is something that can eventually apply to all American industry," he said.
Last November, OSHA signed a similar agreement with Chrysler Corporation covering workers at five assembly plants. At the time, OSHA officials said they hoped to use that agreement as a pattern for the entire auto industry. OSHA is now seeking a similar ergonmics agreement with General Motors, but those discussions appear to be on hold until contract negotiations with the UAW are completed this fall.
OSHA in recent years has targeted ergonomic problems as one of the major hazards of the workplace, placing special emphasis on reducing repetitive motion injuries in the the meatpacking and auto industries. Government safety experts also have begun targeting office workers who use computer keyboards extensively.