Background: In Washington State an ergonomics rule was adopted in 2000 that focused on primary prevention. The implementation process followed a 6-year phase-in schedule where employers came into compliance based upon their size and industry. In late 2003 the rule was repealed by an industry-funded voter initiative. Evaluating the implementation of this rule offers a unique opportunity to observe the general deterrent effect of a new public health regulation and to study how employers and workers responded to new requirements.
Methods: Weighted survey regression methods were used to analyze the results from three employer surveys covering more than 5,000 workplaces administered in 2001, 2003, and 2005. These were compared to a baseline employer survey conducted in 1998 before the rule was promulgated. Questions covered the following topics: WMSDs experienced at the workplace; levels of employee exposure to musculoskeletal hazards; steps being taken, if any, to address these hazards; results of these steps; and sources of ergonomic information/assistance used.
Results: From 1998 to 2003 there was a reduction in reported exposures among workplaces in the highest hazard industries. Following the rule's repeal, however, hazard exposures increased. While more workplaces reported taking steps to reduce exposures between 1998 and 2001, this gain was reversed in 2003 and 2005. Employers who took steps reported positive results in injury and absenteeism reduction. Large workplaces in the high hazard industries were more active in taking steps and used a wide variety of resources to address ergonomics issues. Small employers relied more on trade associations and the state.
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