Despite declining lost-time injury rates, employers can’t afford to be complacent when it comes to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
From 2003 to 2009, the MSD lost-time injury rate declined 30 per cent overall in Ontario. In 2009, MSDs represented 44 per cent of all lost-time claims, 44 per cent of all lost days and 41 per cent of all lost-time injury claim costs filed with Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). That’s the equivalent of 28,570 claims, 912,785 days lost and almost $112 million in WSIB costs.
“Obviously, these types of injuries pose a really significant burden on workers, the WSIB and the province as a whole,” said Anne Duffy, provincial ergonomist at the Ontario Ministry of Labour.
Ontario is not the only province to have high workplace injury claims stemming from MSDs. British Columbia reported a significant decrease in carpal tunnel claims between 2005 and 2009, but injuries in those years still meant 133,587 lost days, according to WorkSafeBC. In Alberta, 33 per cent of disabling injury claims were related to back problems in 2008, according to the province’s Worker’s Compensation Board.
The Ontario Ministry of Labour undertook a workplace blitz to look specifically for MSD violations in late 2010. Inspectors looked at hospitals, retail environments, home-building sites and mines.
They visited 2,778 workplaces and issued 8,851 orders in two months. Of those, 2,403 — or 27.1 per cent — were MSD-related.
Some of the most common orders issued were for training, maintaining equipment and handling materials.
Some health and safety professionals may fear a high cost associated with MSD prevention, but that’s not necessarily the case, said Duffy.
For example, one recurring issue in the Ontario workplace inspections was storage rooms with blocked aisles. These environments exacerbate MSD potential because workers have to lift more than one item to get what they need, she said.
“We would see aisles totally blocked with overstock,” she said.
A reorganization of the stock room would solve this problem, with no need for new equipment, said Duffy.
“A lot of the solutions were very easy to be able to do,” she said. “It is not an issue that is going to create a big burden.”
Workplaces looking to be proactive and ensure MSD policies are up to date may consider hiring a consultant for a risk assessment analysis of work conditions, said Dhananjai Borwankar, a technical specialist at the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS).
MSD information is always being updated. At the CCOHS, publications are updated about every three to five years, he said.
MSDs can happen anywhere and are not just the result of repetitive movements on a manufacturing line or carpal tunnel from long days at a desk, so the CCOHS online resource OSH Answers covers a variety of workplace MSDs.
It’s information that is important for workplaces in all industries, said Borwankar.
“I don’t see any workplaces that wouldn’t have risk factors for MSDs,” he said.
HR professionals may also consider providing training for staff and members of the health and safety committee, so they can keep an eye out for issues contributing to MSDs.
The Manitoba government recently changed its workshop for musculoskeletal injuries. Instead of having one workshop, the province now offers three courses geared specifically to office-based work, field and industrial workplaces and the health-care industry, said Roland Reenders, an ergonomist in the workplace health and safety division at Manitoba Labour and Immigration.
“We were getting feedback that said, ‘Yeah, that was a great course but I wish it was more related to the field I am involved in,’” he said.
The courses are free, open to anyone and offered 26 times this year. Attendees are usually members of workplace health and safety committees or supervisors in workplaces, said Reenders.
All the courses cover hazard recognition and controls as well as legislated responsibilities. Having three courses allows for the discussion of challenges and controls more relevant to each industry, said Reenders. Now the courses are more relevant but not too specific so enrolment is still high.
“We think we’ve found a sort of happy medium,” he said.
The ongoing problem with MSD-related risks is they might not be noticed by supervisors around the workplace, said Duffy.
“These types of hazards don’t cause an immediate consequence,” she said. “If there is no immediate outcome they tend not to recognize the hazard.”
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