MSD Reduction in a Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Workplace

Pharmaceutical | Manufacturing | Large Business | Employee Engagement | Participative Approach


1. Organizations Involved

Apotex Inc., North York Campus, Ontario

Workplace Safety Prevention Services (WSPS), Ontario


2. Description of the Case


2.1 Introduction/Background

  • Apotex Inc. is a Canadian pharmaceutical company that produces high-quality and affordable medicines for patients globally. The North York campus employs more than 2000 employees, with a majority working in manufacturing where there is potential for ergonomic injury and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) as a result of their day-to-day tasks.

  • Based on past incident history, and feedback from manufacturing employees about ergonomic concerns on awkward postures, heavy equipment, strenuous and physical tasks, an ergonomics program was initiated to identify and control potential MSD hazards in the workplace.

  • The first functional area to participate in the ergonomics program was the Compounding department, comprised of approximately 120 employees.


2.2 Goal

Identify tasks with potential MSD hazards and effective solutions to reduce ergonomic injuries in the Compounding department.


2.3 What was done and how?

  • Tasks with potential ergonomic hazard concerns were identified by an Apotex health and safety member in conjunction with employees, and through analyzing incident history.

  • A WSPS ergonomist observed the work processes and environment within the Apotex facility and interviewed workers. The tasks were further analyzed using ergonomic modeling tools.

  • The Compounding department used the results from WSPS to develop controls to reduce risk factors. The department formed a project team (made up of management, project leaders, and the health and safety team) to meet on a regular basis to discuss challenges and solutions, and to ensure ergonomic improvement deadlines were prioritized.

  • After improvements are implemented, effectiveness was measured by employee feedback, internal risk evaluations, and monitoring (number and severity of) incidents since implementation.


2.4 Results of the changes?

  • The results and recommendations in the ergonomic studies were well received by department management and workers as they had a better understanding of the benefits of applying ergonomic controls to reduce injury and discomfort.

  • Since the Compounding department had their initial ergonomic assessment in 2019, there has been ongoing work to implement controls to address items identified in the assessment including:

    • Mechanical lifter for heavy equipment and materials.

    • Adding additional handles on heavy parts to enable team lifting.

    • Creation of a lifting aid attachment to forklifts to easily transport drums.

    • Training modules focusing on safe material handling for specific tasks, which have been incorporated into new-hire orientation.

  • The North York campus has already seen a reduction of 59% of WSIB-reportable ergonomic injuries since the baseline measurement. The Compounding department has seen a 55% reduction. The projected direct cost savings is $20,000 per year, in addition to indirect cost savings such as hiring/training, productivity, and quality.


3. Success Factors/Challenges

  • External experts (WSPS ergonomist) were useful in identifying and measuring risk factors, allowing departments to prioritize ergonomic improvements.

  • Management commitment and employee engagement.

  • Active participation from the health and safety team to ensure ergonomic projects were prioritized by departments. The health and safety team accompanied the WSPS ergonomist to assist in data collection and interviewing employees.


4. Transferability

Ergonomic risk factors can be properly identified and analyzed to ensure employers develop appropriate controls. This approach can be applied to other manufacturing and other workplace settings where employees perform many material handling tasks. This approach is currently being applied in other settings within the Apotex North York campus.


5. Further Information


Report: MSD Reduction in a Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Workplace (PDF)


Contact: Angelica Rotundo

Associate Director, Safety, Health & Environment

Apotex Inc., North York, ON



6. References or Resources

  • National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Revised Lifting Equation

  • NIOSH and CRE-MSD (2014). Observation-Based Posture Assessment. DHHS (NIOSH) Publication Number 2014-131. Retrieved from

  • Snook, S.H., The design of manual handling tasks, Ergonomics, 21:12-963-985, 1978.




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DISCLAIMER: CRE-MSD receives funding through a grant provided by the Ontario Ministry of Labour. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Province.

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