It’s the law. MSD hazards are covered by the “General Duty Clause” (In Ontario, Part III of the OHS Act, 25 (2)(h)). It remains the employer’s responsibility to identify and control exposure to MSD hazards. It’s the right thing to do and removes the personal, business and social costs of MSD for workers and employers. It makes good sense. It improves product and process quality. There is a large amount of research linking the use of ergonomics and in the design of production systems with improved quality performance in manufacturing. Most factors for decreased quality were MSD hazards too!
Having the full participation of workers is especially important for MSD prevention. Their bodies feel the effects of MSD hazards as high effort, fatigue or pain. They therefore have knowledge that no one else has. Change is always difficult. But with workers’ ideas and suggestions, the change will be the right one, and will have the right impact.
It is important for supervisors to listen and take seriously reports of pain. Pain can be the first sign that the worker has been exposed to MSD hazards. Take the time to listen to the worker. Look after the worker with medical aid as needed and appropriate. Then use their reporting as a trigger to investigate their job for MSD hazards.
Get to the root cause of the problem: it could be due to workplace factors such as the manufacturing process, machines, product design or workspace setup. Get the worker’s ideas on possible solutions. Trial the solution and make needed adjustments. Make sure the change did not result in other unanticipated problems.
Supervisors give short safety talks to their teams about many hazards. These talks can also remind workers about MSD hazards. Use one of the 7 mini-posters in the Quick Start Guide to help you lead a talk, e.g. “Don’t Lift from the Floor!” Workers learn by participating. Make sure to leave lots of time for workers’ questions and opinions. Ask for ideas on how to improve the workplace and follow-up.
Changing the work and the workplace with new tools and equipment are the most effective and sustainable way to solve MSD. The root causes of MSD are often manufacturing processes, machine design, product design, or workspace setup. Other approaches, such as job rotation and “lifting properly” should not be the main approach to preventing MSD. There is no evidence to support the use of back belts or supports to prevent back injury, and the Ministry of Labour warns of the potential health risks in wearing them for this purpose.
The Health and Safety Committee (H&SC) or Safety Representative handles complaints and concerns from workers, including MSD hazards. This helps the H&SC identify MSD hazards. The H&SCs can provide advice to management when asked, or they can take the initiative and make recommendations on solutions. The H&SC can make suggestions or can arrange for training on OH&S, including on MSD hazards. The H&SC can create sub-committees to deal with specific problems such as MSD hazards. They can receive specific training on MSD prevention, which can be useful.
It is the legal responsibility of employers under the OHS Act to create a workplace that minimizes MSD hazards as much as reasonably possible. Creating a workplace that does not hurt can also lead to a more productive workplace with higher morale and better-quality products or services. Also, by fixing the work, a broader range of workers can do the work. People who couldn’t do a job before because of being shorter or having limitations, such as injured workers returning to work, will now be able to do the job better.
A Physical Demand Analysis (PDA) or Physical Demand Description (PDD) includes listing the demands of the job. It includes issues related to MSD hazards, such as lifting. You can use the ideas from the mini-posters in the Quick Start Guide to provide extra information. Remember that if MSD hazards have led to pain and disability in a single worker, use the opportunity to use the information to change the work of other workers doing similar work beforethey are injured
MSD prevention shares many features with other Health and Safety issue. However, specific knowledge is required to effectively prevent MSD. This knowledge includes recognizing and assessing MSD hazards and selecting and implementing controls. Training on these specific topics by competent instructors is needed.
There are few specific regulations (for example in Ontario, the Healthcare or Industrial Regulations) covering MSD hazards and resulting disorders, such as low back pain or shoulder injuries, MSD hazards are still be covered by the “General Duty Clause” (In Ontario, Part III of the OHS Act, 25 (2)(h)) and it remains the employer’s responsibility to identify and control exposure forthese hazards.
Jump straight in. Starting is the most important part of reducing MSD hazards. Use the six mini-posters in the Quick Start Guide to give you ideas for what can be changed. The posters give you the general idea behind the fix. For example,” STORE IT OFF THE FLOOR” shows how to store products. If boxes are on the floor, set up stands or work surfaces to raise them off the floor.
This guideline has been written so that the prevention of MSD follows very similar steps to those used with other hazards. This means that MSD Prevention can be integrated more easily into common business practices. Another common approach is creating a separate Ergonomics committee or program. Although this has the advantage that it permits a small group to focus on ergonomics as a way of preventing MSD, the downside is that this small group may become “off-the radar” and ineffective as it is separated from the main health and safety program. This is why integration of MSD into the Organization’s Health and Safety Program is recommended.
Companies that use Six Sigma to improve quality and productivity, can also use Six Sigma tools for MSD hazard identification, problem solving, and reduction. Engineers and managers are familiar with using the Six Sigma approach and tools. Adopting these processes and tools for MSD hazards will offer a common language and strategy. Having an ergonomist join the team will help managers and engineers relate to MSD and will raise their awareness of MSD hazards.
There is strong and consistent evidence that physical factors in the workplace and how work is organized greatly increase a person’s chance of developing an MSD. It can also aggravate an existing MSD on return to work. Despite this evidence, it is common to ignore the strong contribution of the workplace and blame workers’ low back or shoulder pain on individual factors such as “gardening”, “susceptibility” or “genetics” instead. This argument does not take away from the added contribution of work to the development and aggravation of MSD. This added contribution can be fixed at the workplace.
There are specific approaches to recognizing, assessing MSD hazards and selecting and implementing controls. Training on these specific topics by competent instructors should be done. Participation of workers in MSD Prevention activities is especially important. Key hazards include lifting from the floor; twisting when lifting; working with arms overhead; holding objects or tools for extended periods, especially in a non- power grip; using vibrating tools; prolonged standing and extended hours working with a computer.
By themselves, job rotation and “lifting properly” have not been shown to be effective as MSD controls. There is no evidence to support the use of lumbar support belts – or back belts – to prevent back injury, and the Ministry of Labour warns of the potential health risks in wearing them for this purpose. There is evidence to support changes in work activity based on ergonomic principles will help to reduce MSD hazards.
Providing a supervisor or manager with flexibility in determining accommodations for a worker developing symptoms or returning to work can improve its success. Flexibility could involve having the authority to modify work: this may include shortening work hours, modifying duties, changing equipment, relocating staff, adjusting schedules, authorizing accommodation-related expenses and facilitating access to medical resources.
People differ in the level of MSD hazard that causes injuries and disorders, just like any other occupational hazard, such as noise. What might be a good working height for one person may be much too high for another. So, reports of pain and discomfort of one or a number of workers act as an early warning sign that some job tasks are overloading parts of the body.
If multiple people show similar patterns of pain doing comparable work, it greatly increases the likelihood that a substantial MSD hazard is present in their work. This does not mean a single worker’s report can be ignored however.
Supportive supervisor behaviour is critical to prevent any disability from MSD increasing and during return to work. Support in the form of demonstration of empathy and consideration are important.
We are working to continuously develop the MSD Prevention Guideline. Watch for new content, including more resources and case studies.
Read success stories and case studies about preventing MSD. These stories may apply to your workplace and help you make the right decision.
Frequently asked questions. There are lots of myths about preventing MSD at work. With good information and actions, MSD can be prevented.
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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.