Health, safety partners make MSD prevention a priority

Ontario’s workplace health and safety system is taking a big step forward in how it addresses musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). It has recognized the need to make MSD prevention a priority for all system partners and all workplaces in Ontario.

This is being achieved through a nine-part MSD Prevention Strategy, which the Ontario Health and Safety Council (OHSCO) approved in March 2005. The Institute for Work & Health has supported the development of this strategy in a number of ways.

“The goal of the MSD Prevention Strategy is to increase MSD prevention activities in Ontario workplaces,” says Jonathan Tyson, the strategy’s Project Manager. “This will, over time, lead to lower rates of reported lost-time MSDs, healthier workers, and lower costs for Ontario employers.”

The foundation of the strategy is the development and dissemination of an MSD Prevention Guideline for Ontario. The guideline contains practical information about MSD risk factors, control strategies, hazard identification tools and risk assessment methods.

The guideline was created under the direction of OHSCO, whose members include senior decision-makers from the Ontario Workplace Safety & Insurance Board (WSIB), Ministry of Labour (MOL), Institute for Work & Health (IWH), and all of Ontario’s Health and Safety Associations (HSAs).

“The Institute is playing an important role in the implementation of the strategy, by offering support through our research and knowledge transfer expertise,” says Kiera Keown, an IWH Knowledge Transfer Associate, who sits on the OHSCO MSD prevention committee.

Content for the guideline was developed with input from internationally recognized experts in MSD research, including IWH Senior Scientist Dr. Donald Cole and President Dr. Cam Mustard. Many stakeholders were also consulted to help develop and review the guideline.

It is expected that all system partners will support the final guideline and use it to promote and support MSD prevention activities in workplaces. Ontario’s HSAs and employers can use the guideline to create or update their MSD awareness, prevention and training materials.

“This is an exciting step for the Ontario health and safety system,” says Tyson. “If widely adopted and promoted, the guideline has the potential to make a real difference in the lives of Ontario workers and the competitiveness of our workplaces.”

In Ontario, employers have a general duty under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) to take reasonable precautions to protect workers from MSDs. While there is no specific requirement, the act requires employers to acquaint workers “with any hazard” related to work, including MSD hazards.

Copies of the draft guideline are available at the Pulp and Paper Health and Safety Association website (www.pphsa.on.ca).
Once the guideline is in place, the next step will be to create sector-specific MSD prevention materials and implement other strategy initiatives.

ABOUT MSDs

In Ontario, MSDs are the leading cause of compensation claims for time off work each year. MSDs are injures of the muscles, tendons, nerves and other soft tissues. Between 1996 and 2004, MSDs accounted for more than 40 per cent of lost-time claims by workers in Ontario. The Institute for Work & Health has invested a long-standing commitment to MSD research, prevention, and knowledge transfer and exchange activities.

Source: At Work, Issue 46, Fall 2006: Institute for Work & Health, Toronto