OSHA's Work Restriction Protection (WRP) program is a component of its ergonomics standard, which was devised and implemented to aid in preventing injuries of a specific type: work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). According to the agency, MSDs rank as the most widespread occupational health hazard, with nearly two million workers suffering these types of injuries every year. Approximately 600,000 of these workers lose time from work as a result of their injuries, and the most severe injuries may put employees out of work for months or even cause permanent disability.
Why Did OSHA Implement WRP?
The reasons OSHA cites for inclusion of the WRP in the ergonomics standard include:
- Employee reports of MSDs trigger coverage of the ergonomics standard
Since most employers are not required to implement ergonomics programs until a covered MSD is reported, the effectiveness of the standard depends on employees feeling free to report injuries without penalty.
- Early reporting prevents serious injury
WRP is designed to ensure that MSDs are addressed before they become more severe. Early reporting is critical to that effort and is more likely to occur when employees have no need to fear reporting or participating in MSD management.
- Many employees are not reporting MSDs
OSHA states that there is evidence that as many as 50 percent of workers do not report their MSDs or seek workers' compensation benefits for them. Consequently, the agency feels that employees need assurance that reporting an MSD or accepting assignment to light duty work that allows them to recover from their MSD will not lead to reprisals, loss of pay, or reduced benefits.
The WRP provision requires that the earnings and other rights and benefits of employees who are on temporary work restriction due to a work-related MSD – per an employer's decision or the recommendation of a health care professional – be maintained in full. Workers who have been fully removed from the workplace due to a MSD are to receive 90 percent of their net earnings and all of their benefits, including seniority, insurance programs, retirement benefits, and savings plans.
The employer determines whether to place injured employees on work restriction or to fully remove them from the workplace. However, employers must follow the recommendation of their chosen health care professional if it is determined that a specific approach is necessary in order to limit the employee's exposure to MSD hazards.
The obligation to provide WRP ends when one of the following occurs:
- The employee is able to return to their regular job or a permanent new position.
- The job is changed to eliminate the MSD hazard or reduce it to the extent that it does not pose a risk of harm to the injured employee.
- Six months have passed.
WRP payments to workers may be reduced by the amount of income received from other sources, such as workers' compensation, unemployment insurance, or income from a job with another employer during the work restrictions period.
Efforts Changing More Than Just Statistics
OSHA's goal in implementing the ergonomics standard, and the WRP provision it contains, lies in protecting the very real people behind the injury statistics. Ergonomics has proven its value in preventing workplace injuries, with studies cited by OSHA showing reductions in injury rates of up to 75 percent with the implementation of ergonomics programs. Those same studies illustrate benefits that go beyond preventing workplace injuries, including significant increases in workplace efficiency and productivity and substantial reductions in workers' compensation costs.