Did you know that October is Global Ergonomics Month? One in every ten Canadian adults have had a repetitive strain injury (RSI) serious enough to limit normal activities. Is this happening to you?
Since March of 2020, many businesses have moved their offices online, meaning that more workers than ever before are doing their daily tasks from the “comfort” of their own homes. But those working from home might not have access to the proper ergonomically-correct equipment or appropriate office setups needed to prevent musculoskeletal disorders.
This Global Ergonomics Month, take a look around you and ask yourself: How’s your posture? Does your dining room chair provide enough support? How low is your screen sitting? Is your keyboard at an uncomfortable angle?
What is a Musculoskeletal Disorder?
Did you know that musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) are the most common injuries experienced by Ontario workers? MSDs are injuries and disorders of the musculoskeletal system. The musculoskeletal system is made up of muscles, tendons and tendon sheathes, nerves, bursa, blood vessels, joints/spinal discs, and ligaments. They can be impacted or aggravated by various hazards or risk factors, such as:
- High force
- Awkward/static postures
- Repetitive motions
What is Ergonomics?
Ergonomics is the science of fitting the job to the worker and has proven important in preventing the types of musculoskeletal injuries that contribute to increasing workplace-related disability claims. Ergonomics work to prevent injuries rather than treat them.
A complete ergonomics program includes education, design changes and engineering solutions ato mitigate exposure to risk factors and encourages good habits in posture, body mechanics and exercise at work, home and leisure.
What Employers Can Do
Design and Engineering Solutions
MSD prevention should be considered in purchasing of equipment and design of workstations. In an RFP, MSD prevention considerations can be listed in specifications and the evaluation of proposals prior to awarding a contract to a vendor (e.g. controls in a grader, adjustability of seats in vehicles, amount of hand-arm vibration exposure a worker is exposed to by using a tool, the force required to move a stretcher or cart due to the bearings and type of wheels, etc.). In the design of a new work area (new building or renovation to existing location), human factors and MSD prevention can be considered in the design phase when reviewing drawings of proposed layout and equipment with architects and engineers.
Ensuring that workspace design is functional, has appropriate surface to complete tasks and includes adequate storage for supplies, equipment and reference materials, helps to keep your workers safe from a common, and preventable, MSD. For example, a sit-stand workstation allows the worker to work comfortably in both a sitting and standing position by offering the ability to change the height of their desktop. Research suggests sit/stand ratios of 1:1 (equal sitting and standing time) up to 1:3 (15 minutes of sitting and 45 minutes of standing per hour), as changing postures throughout the day is beneficial for all workers. Standing desk extensions for pre-existing desks are also available.
In a report on OHS considerations for a healthcare centre, we outlined various recommendations from both a physical and operational planning perspective on ergonomic design principles to prevent MSD. The report recommended that designing workspaces to accommodate the 5th and 95th percentile of workers and determining the range of movement expected in the job or task can help employers provide adjustable equipment and allow workers the ability to move without constraint and maintain neutral body posture.
PSHSA offers a wide range of ergonomic services designed to meet your specific workplace health and safety needs. We provide tailored ergonomic assessments and consulting services with our Certified Professional Ergonomists for individuals, employers, and insurers across Ontario. Speak with your consultant today about an assessment.
Musculoskeletal Disorder Prevention Program
The Internal Responsibility System (IRS) encourages all workplace parties to take part in occupational health and safety. Health and safety is a shared responsibility.
Senior leadership should make MSD prevention an organizational priority and commit to MSD prevention as an essential part of their health and safety initiatives to reduce the risk of workplace injuries. The overall objective of an MSD prevention program is to establish measures and procedures that avoid overloading or damaging the musculoskeletal system. Ergonomics, used in combination with MSD prevention initiatives, can assist the workplace to recognize, assess, and control MSD hazards and related concerns in the workplace.
The MSD Prevention Guideline for Ontario is an excellent resource for workplace solutions for back pain, tennis elbow and other MSD. This PSHSA fact sheet can also help workplace parties, including employers, managers, supervisors, workers, joint health and safety committee members (JHSC) and health and safety representatives (HSR), understand their occupational health and safety responsibilities and the importance of MSD prevention.
PSHSA’s free online training program can help your organization get on track with your ergonomics, and help workers remain safe and comfortable at work. This eLearning discusses:
- Risks associated with computer work
- The importance of varying your work posture
- Key factors in maximizing your “comfort zone”
- Evaluation of your office work environment
- Applying ergonomics strategies to the arrangement of your work environment
- The importance of healthy computing habits, including rest breaks
Employees Participating in Change (EPIC) Program
Designed for Ontario’s healthcare and community care sector, the Employees Participating in Change (EPIC) program provides employers and employees with vital information and guidance in order to identify, assess and control MSD and slips, trips and falls hazards to help with prevention. The EPIC program takes a proactive approach that depends on a participatory framework, and seeks to guide organizations through the development of a comprehensive injury prevention program for MSD and slips, trips and falls.
Joint Health and Safety Committee
An effective workplace health and safety program is built on a strong foundation. Perfecting the basics is integral to creating and managing a safe and healthy workplace. These include training workers on their rights and responsibilities, performing regular workplace inspections and establishing and maintaining a joint health and safety committee (JHSC) composed of worker and employer representatives.
Every Ontario business with 20 or more regular employees is required to have a JHSC in place. Together, their goal is to be mutually committed to improving health and safety in the workplace. All JHSC members must be trained in common workplace hazards found in their particular place of work.
This Global Ergonomics Month, consult with your JHSC on steps they can take, initiatives they can implement and what they can do to promote MSD awareness and prevention.
Launch a Workplace Wellness Program
Wellness programs and initiatives have become a trend in workplaces as employers hope to better the quality of life of their employees, create a healthy culture and save on future costs. Workplace wellness programs promote overall wellbeing and have been found to increase productivity. Best of all, they help to get employees up from behind their screens and out of their chairs.
Need some examples? Lunchtime walking clubs, walking meetings, different health campaigns and challenges, community service activities, an annual day in the park, and encouraging co-workers to join a marathon are all great ideas for workplace wellness initiatives.
Global Ergonomics Month Webinar Series
Webinar Series: Supporting Remote Office Work, Pivoting Back to the Workplace During a Pandemic, and the Future of Virtual Workspaces
Join CRE-MSD, IHSA, PSHSA, WSPS and OHCOW for this free webinar series featuring five international experts. The series will explore flexible/hybrid office environments and returning to on-site office workspaces, how these can be supported, the impact on health, moving beyond the constraints of individual productivity, and a look at what a true “virtual” workspace will look like in the future.
This free four-part webinar series will examine research on how pivoting imposed by COVID-19 health hazards has impacted workers and challenged the health and safety support system’s ability to ensure ‘work shouldn’t hurt’. It will assist organizations to learn about and help prevent physical, cognitive and psychological challenges related to remote work practices implemented during COVID-19. Learn more and view the recordings!
Learn more about musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) and ergonomics.
New Home Office Wellness Training Programs
A New Approach to MSDs for the Aging Workplace
Consider Ergonomics When Making The Transition To Working From Home
Tips for Setting Up Your Home Office
The Potential for MSD in Childcare Workers
PSHSA Fact Sheets
How Does My Back Work?
How Much Can You Lift?
Checklist for Identification of Risk Factors Associated with Hand-Arm & Back Injuries
Preventing MSD: Workplace Responsibilites, Participation and Safety Culture
Certified Canadian Professional Ergonomist (CCCPE)
The Association of Canadian Ergonomists (ACE)
MSD Prevention Guideline for Ontario | Ontario MSD Prevention Guideline
Ergonomics in the workplace | Ministry of Labour Training and Skills Development
Client Handling and Musculoskeletal Disorders in the Health Care Sector | Ministry of Labour Training and Skills Development
Ergonomics in the workplace | Ontario Government
Client/patient handling community of practice | Centre of Research Expertise for the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders (CRE-MSD)
Patient Handling for Healthcare Workers | Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers Inc.
Tanya works with employers and workers to develop sustainable and robust occupational health and safety programs to mitigate risks as an ergonomist, occupational health and safety professional, and Director Prevention, Engagement and Retention, here at PSHSA. She is a Certified Professional Ergonomist (CCPE), and a Canadian Registered Safety Professional (CRSP). Tanya served as President, Secretary and Board Member for the Canadian College for the Certification of Professional Ergonomists (CCCPE) from 2015 – 2018, and is the National Secretary at Association of Canadian Ergonomists (2020-2023).