The Panel on Musculoskeletal Disorders and the Workplace was established by the National Research Council (NRC) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in January 1999, to conduct a two-year study of the contribution of workplace physical and psychosocial factors to the occurrence of musculoskeletal disorders of the low back and upper extremities and to examine the effectiveness of various prevention strategies. The panel is composed of 19 experts representing the fields of biomechanics, epidemiology, hand surgery, human factors engineering, internal medicine, nursing, occupational medicine, orthopedics, physical medicine and rehabilitation, physiology, psychology, quantitative analysis, and rheumatology. The impetus for the study was a request from Congress to examine the causation, diagnosis, and prevention of musculoskeletal disorders (House Report 105-635). The congressional request was presented in the form of seven questions (see Box 1.1). The charge to the panel, prepared by the NRC and the IOM, was designed to provide a comprehensive review of the science base and to address the issues outlined in the congressional questions. The tasks specified in the charge are:
Assess the state of the medical and biomechanical literature
BOX 1.1 Seven Questions Posed by Congress House Report 105-635
1. What are the conditions affecting humans that are considered to be work-related musculoskeletal disorders?
2. What is the status of medical science with respect to the diagnosis and classification of such conditions?
3. What is the state of scientific knowledge, characterized by the degree of certainty or lack thereof, with regard to occupational and non-occupational activities causing such conditions?
4. What is the relative contribution of any causal factors identified in the literature to the development of such conditions in (a) the general population; (b) specific industries; and (c) specific occupational groups?
5. What is the incidence of such conditions in (a) the general population; (b) specific industries; and (c) specific occupational groups?
6. Does the literature reveal any specific guidance to prevent the development of such conditions in (a) the general population; (b) specific industries; and (c) specific occupational groups?
7. What scientific questions remain unanswered, and may require further research, to determine which occupational activities in which specific industries cause or contribute to work-related musculoskeletal disorders?