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It’s time for an ergonomics refresher on training

A while back, I wrote about how mandatory training in ergonomics would be an effective way of preventing workplace injuries (musculoskeletal injuries/disorders and repetitive strain injuries), reducing absenteeism, increasing productivity and improving morale in the workplace. Have my opinions changed?

No. Back in 2010, I argued that, although several Canadian jurisdictions do not have specific legislation mandating the kind of ergonomic training I’m referring to, all jurisdictions have health and safety legislation requiring employers to protect employees’ health and safety and take preventive measures to protect employees from possible risk, hazards and injuries. Further, where a hazard cannot be eliminated or lessened to acceptable levels via engineering and administrative controls, employers must ensure that the appropriate personal protective equipment is used.

What’s more, some jurisdictions (British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador and federally regulated workplaces) do have specific provisions in their occupational health and safety legislation or regulations that require them to:

  • Identify factors in the workplace that may expose workers to a risk of musculoskeletal injuries
  • Assess the risks
  • Eliminate or at least minimize the risks using controls such as appropriate workstation, seating or footrests, education, training and monitoring of the situation

I said it then and I’ll say it again, every jurisdiction needs this kind of legislation.

It is clear, and the Ontario Ministry of Labour and WSIB will confirm, that musculoskeletal disorders are the leading cause of lost-time injuries in Ontario.

I’m talking about the kinds of injuries and disorders of the muscles, tendons and nerves that develop as a result of ongoing exposure to such things as repetitive work, forceful exertions such as heavy lifting and carrying, awkward postures and vibrating equipment that can affect the bones, joints, ligaments and other soft tissues.

What exactly is “ergonomics”? It is the scientific discipline concerned with interactions among humans and other elements of a system (e.g., the tools, equipment, products, tasks, organization, technology and environment). It is the science of designing the workplace and the job to fit the worker to ensure employees are not injured or made unusually uncomfortable when working.

Some may think this applies only to employees who have a very labour-intensive physical job. This is wrong. Sitting and typing all day at a computer is actually very hard on the body and can cause a lot of these injuries and disorders involving the muscles, tendons and nerves.

What can employers do, even if they do not have the kind of legislation I think should be present in every jurisdiction? If you want to avoid employee injuries, absences as well as employee pain and suffering, and you would rather increase productivity and morale in the workplace, it is recommended that you do the following:

  • Create an ergonomics program
  • Assess and identify risks in the workplace likely to cause a soft-tissue injury by examining the following: duration, repetition and frequency of certain activities, workplace layout, working posture and position, actions and movements, location of loads and distance moved, weights and forces, characteristics of equipment, work organization and environment (lighting, temperature and vibration), work-related clothing, any special needs, and worker skills, experience, age, height and size
  • Hire an experienced ergonomist to evaluate the risks
  • Conduct regular workplace inspections
  • Consult with employees
  • Provide employees with a benefit plan that allows for treatment of these injuries
  • Respond to employee concerns and investigate any incidents
  • Analyze the workplace injury records
  • Once the risks have been identified, work to eliminate or reduce the risks by using re-engineering operations (e.g., modify workplace layout, job rotations), re-engineering task performance (e.g., modify actions, movements and forces), instructing workers in general ergonomics principles, advising and training workers about the risk factors of the workplace discovered in the evaluation along with the measures created by the employer in order to eliminate or reduce the risks
  • Encourage workers to report any concerns or injuries as soon as practicable, and follow up to ensure that the preventive measures are effective

Does your workplace provide ergonomics training to employees? If so, have you found an improvement to the point where there are lower frequencies of injuries?

Christina Catenacci
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Editor

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Christina Catenacci

Christina Catenacci, BA, LLB, LLM, was called to the Ontario Bar in 2002 and has since been a member of the Ontario Bar Association. Christina worked as an editor with First Reference between February 2005 and August 2015, working on publications including The Human Resources Advisor (Ontario, Western and Atlantic editions), HRinfodesk discussing topics in Labour and Employment Law. Christina has decided to pursue a PhD at the University of Western Ontario beginning in the fall of 2015. Read more
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