Prevention programs in the workplace can reduce the incidence of musculoskeletal disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome and lower back strain, but more research is needed to understand what kinds of programs work, a U.S. government advisory panel said.
The National Academy of Sciences panel of experts also said there's a "strong biological plausibility" that these disorders occur more often in what are considered high-risk workplaces--essentially backing the idea of a link between factors such as repetitive motion and conditions such as carpal tunnel.
Still, the panel said such problems can also be caused by non-work activities, and it stopped short of making specific recommendations. Instead, it said interventions must be individualized and that the area as a whole requires more research.
The report is likely to be used as a political football as the government wrestles with the idea of regulations to try to prevent work-related disorders.
"This study by NAS today very clearly states more research is needed," said Al Lundeen, a spokesman for the industry-supported National Coalition on Ergonomics. His group, funded by associations and businesses representing large and small employers, opposes any kind of regulation "until there's a scientific foundation on which to place it," he said.
Meanwhile, Labor Secretary Alexis Herman issued a statement on behalf of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is considering regulations to reduce the incidence of work-related disorders.