According to the Ontario Ministry of Labour and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are the leading cause of lost-time injuries in the province. That is why, from September 15 to November 15, 2010, the ministry will hold a workplace safety inspection blitz that focuses on MSD hazards in all sectors such as construction, industrial, health care, mining and specialized and professional services.
The increased enforcement is part of the province’s Safe At Work Ontario strategy, launched in June 2008.
What are Musculoskeletal disorders?
MSDs are injuries and disorders of the muscles, tendons and nerves. They can 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.
Ergonomics 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.
Although Ontario has no specific provisions regulating ergonomic and ergonomic-related injuries, under the general duty clause of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, employers have an obligation to protect employees’ health and safety and take preventive measures to reduce ergonomic-related risk, hazards and injuries.
This means, employers must identify if MSD hazards exist in their workplace, and if so, take appropriate action and measures to prevent ergonomic-related injuries that could affect their employees.
What will be the focus of the blitz?
The focus will depend on the type of workplace being inspected. Inspectors will pay particular attention to tasks requiring workers to use their muscles to exert force to lift, push or carry items. These tasks will be identified through an analysis of types of workplaces known to have high frequencies of MSD injuries and hazards.
Inspectors will take action if they find contraventions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act and its regulations. This may include issuing orders and laying charges under the act.
Steps employers can take to protect employees
Ergonomics in the workplace is a growing concern. Whether or not your province has specific legislation regarding ergonomics in the workplace, it is strongly suggested that employers take the following steps:
- Create an ergonomics program
- Assess and identify risks in the workplace likely to cause a soft-tissue injury
- Hire an experienced ergonomist to evaluate the risks
- Conduct regular workplace inspections
- Consult with employees
- Investigate any incidents
- Analyze the workplace injury records
Employers should evaluate the risks by examining:
- 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)
- Worker skills, experience, age, height and size
- Work-related clothing
- Any special needs
Employers should create control measures to eliminate or reduce the risks by:
- 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, and 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
- Follow up to ensure that the preventive measures are effective
Have a look at the Ministry of Labour’s website, which has a wealth of resources, including an interactive tool, to help employers and workers prepare for inspection and prevent MSD-related injuries.
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Managing Editor