Workplace Musculoskeletal Disorders

Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders

February is the month of the Ontario Ministry of Labour is conducting a blitz focusing on musculoskeletal disorders. 

Musculoskeletal disorders have been recognized as a significant workplace risk and are the target of a month long blitz by the Ontario Ministry of Health in February that targets industrial, construction, mining and heath care sectors.  The goal of this blitz is that these organizations prepare by taking riffs to reduce the risks of musculoskeletal injuries and protect their employees from injury.

The following information is taken by the Musculoskeletal Disorder (MSD) Prevention Guideline for Ontario, the Resource Manual for the MSD Prevention Guideline for Ontario and the MSD Prevention Tools, tool box is getting started beyond the basics.

The MSD Prevention Guideline was developed by all of Ontario’s’ Health and Safety System partners.

What are Pains & Strains – Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD’s)

Pains and strain / MSDs is an umbrella term for a number of injuries and disorders of the muscles, tendons, nerves, etc.  Other terms that mean the same as MSD’s include:

  • Repetitive strain injury (RSI)
  • Cumulative trauma disorder (CTD)
  • Work-related musculoskeletal disorder (WMSD)
  • Musculoskeletal injury (MSK, MSI)
  • Occupational overuse syndrome (OOS)

Many body parts can be affected.  The back is the most common, followed by the shoulders, neck, elbow, hands and wrists.  The symptoms from MSDs generally include:

  • Pain with or without movement
  • Swelling and tenderness
  • Reduced range of motion and/or stiffness
  • Tingling and/or numbness

Why are Pains & Strains / Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) a Problem?

Pains and strains / MSDs are a problem because:

  • The can affect every aspect of a worker’s life
  • They are costly for workplace.

According to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), pains and strains (musculoskeletal disorders or MSDs) are the number one reason workers file a claim and lose time from work because of injury.  In Ontario in 2007, there were 2007, there was 35,498 MSD lost-time claims which accounted for:

  • 43% of all claims involving time lost from work.
  • 43% of all costs related to time lost from work.
  • 46% of all days lost from work.

From 2003-2007, Ontario’s workers compensation system approved more than 187,000 musculoskeletal claims that resulted in time lost from work.  This equates to about 37,000 MSD claims per year.  These claims meant over 2.5 million days when workers were off and direct costs of more than $314 million.

It is estimated that from 2003-2007, Ontario’s employers pain more than $1 billion in Direct and indirect costs related to these injuries.  Indirect costs include:

  • Overtime or replacement wages
  • Equipment modifications
  • Administration
  • Retraining
  • Lost productivity and reduced quality

Why do Pains and Strains / Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) Occur in the Workplace?

The human body is an amazing machine.  It can do a huge variety of difficult, complex and unique physical tasks.  However, the human body is also limited in what it can do.  Pains and strains/MSDs occur where the demands of the job exceed the capabilities of the person doing to job.

Each person in a workplace is unique.  This diversity shows up in many ways including:

  • Size and shape
  • Strength and endurance
  • Flexibility
  • Hearing
  • Eyesight
  • Knowledge and experience
  • Education and skill.

Because of these differences, the fact that one person can perform a job without suffering and MSD does not mean that everyone will be able to.  Jobs should be designed for a variety of workers.

Does Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act Address MSDs?

The Occupational Health and Safety Act requires employees to:

  • Ensure that workers are made aware of the hazards associated with their jobs and workplaces.
  • Implement controls to reduce the risk of injury due to these hazards
  • Take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect a worker.

MSD hazards must be treated the same as any other workplace hazard.  This means that they need to be:

  • Recognized and identified
  • Assessed
  • Controlled

Although there is no specific section in the Occupational Health and Safety Act or Regulations that is dedicated to workplace ergonomics or MSD hazards, there are many sections that are used by MOL inspectors to enforce protection of Ontario workers.

Preventing Pains and Strains / Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs)

Minimizing the risks of pains and strains/MDSs in your workplace will contribute to a healthy and productive workforce.

As with almost all health and safety issues, it is less expensive to prevent an injury than it is to make changed and corrections after one has occurred.

With a program to prevent pains and strains/MSDs in your workplace, you gain:

  • Healthy workers, who are free from discomfort, and more efficient
  • Reduced Workplace Safety and Insurance Board lost-time injury claims and the associated costs
  • Improved ability to bring workers back to work if they have been injured
  • Improved ability to retain experienced, knowledgeable and skilled workers