The Light at the End of the Carpal Tunnel?

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Tightrope walkers, this story's not for you; keyboard bashers, listen up. A federal proposal announced Monday would protect millions of American workers at risk of on-the-job injury — but it's not the construction workers or miners who have been at the center of previous legislation. The types of activities addressed include operating a computer keypad, washing windows and turning screws on an assembly line, all of which can cause such complaints as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis, brought about by years of repeating a motion. Labor Secretary Alexis Herman said such injuries represent "the most prevalent, most expensive and most preventable workplace injuries in the country, and it is time we do something about it." The feds estimate that by forcing workplaces to become ergonomically correct, they can save the economy 647,000 lost workdays per year and about $9 billion in recovered work hours.

But while the proposal is lauded by labor unions and employees rights groups, the prospect of spending hundreds if not thousands of dollars to customize a workplace to an individual worker isn't necessarily tickling industry leaders. Business leaders predict that the reforms, which would cover 27 million workers at 1.9 million work sites, would cost in the tens of billions, not $4.2 billion as the government states. But those favoring the regulations point out that for businesses, the prospect of paying an employee for half a year while he or she nurses a case of carpet layer's knee will be encouragement enough for them to clean up their acts.