1903 - Inspections, Citations and Proposed Penalties

Standard Interpretations - Table of Contents
• Standard Number: 1903.11(c)

OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at http://www.osha.gov>.

April 6, 1998

[Name Withheld]

Dear [Name Withheld]

This is in response to your correspondence dated October 9, 1997, to President Clinton proposing a safety campaign for back belts. Your letter to President Clinton was referred to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for our response. We apologize for the delay in responding.

OSHA's preferred approach to prevention of injuries and illnesses, including back injuries, is to eliminate the hazardous condition in the workplace, primarily through engineering controls. Engineering controls in situations involving lifting might include mechanical assists, adjustment of the height of the surface from which or to which material is lifted, or elimination of unnecessary bending or twisting in the task through workstation and equipment design.

When engineering controls are insufficient, administrative controls may be used. In the case of lifting, job redesign could be considered. Training of employees and their supervisors in proper lifting techniques is also important.

Back belts are not recognized by OSHA as effective engineering controls to prevent back injury. While they may be accepted by individual workers because they feel as if they provide additional support, the effectiveness of back belts in the prevention of low back injuries has not been proven in the work environment.

Thus, OSHA does not forbid the use of back belts and similar devices, nor does it endorse their use. We have included two NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) publications for your information that discuss the current state of knowledge on backbelts and the importance of the employer developing and instituting a comprehensive ergonomics program.

Your letter indicates you have experienced adverse reactions to your complaints about safety matters. OSHA has authority under Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act to investigate and take appropriate action when that occurs. Section 11(c) states "No person shall discharge or in any manner discriminate against any employee . . . " because the employee has made a complaint. Furthermore, when an employee believes he has been discriminated against, the employee may file a complaint within thirty days alleging discrimination. Normally we recommend contacting the local OSHA Area Office for further information; however, your return address is Salinas, California.

The State of California is one of the twenty-five States that administer their own safety and health program, which are overseen and monitored by Federal OSHA. State plan standards must be at least as effective as Federal OSHA standards, and the State may choose to promulgate and enforce requirements which are stricter than Federal OSHA's. We recommend contacting the California State Plan regarding this issue. They may be reached at the following address and telephone number:
[California Department of Industrial Relations
455 Golden Gate Avenue, 10th Floor
San Francisco, California 94102
(415) 703-5050]
We hope you find the above information helpful. Your concern for employee safety and health is appreciated.


John B. Miles, Jr, Director
Directorate of Enforcement Programs

[Corrected 7/31/2007]

Standard Interpretations - Table of Contents

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