PREMUS 2016 keynote speakers tackle leading-edge issues in MSD prevention

Topics include the risks of prolonged sitting or standing, the application of a gender lens, the role of safety climate and the risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome

Published: February 17, 2016

Much progress has been made in the understanding and prevention of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). But new questions continue to arise to challenge work health researchers. These new questions are sometimes the result of new ways of looking at the existing body of evidence; other times, they arise in response to workplace practices that continue to change. 

The keynote remarks at PREMUS 2016, the 9th International Scientific Conference on the Prevention of Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders, represent a mix of both types of research questions. The conference, organized by the Institute for Work & Health (IWH), will take place over four days in Toronto, from June 20 to 23, 2016. The Institute looks forward to welcoming more than 400 delegates from over 40 countries: scientists, students, practitioners in occupational health and safety, epidemiologists, ergonomists, industrial engineers, clinicians and policy-makers.

One keynote lecturer they will hear from is Dr. Bradley Evanoff, whose remarks will be about the evidence to date on carpal tunnel syndrome. Most studies of carpal tunnel syndrome among workers are limited by small sample sizes or are restricted to a small subset of jobs. The pooling of data from six research centres in what’s known as the NIOSH Upper Limb Consortium has led researchers to some clear findings about the risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome.

Evanoff, who holds the Richard A. and Elizabeth Henby Sutter Chair in Occupational and Environmental Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, will share those findings and discuss what’s next in the effort to turn this evidence into workplace interventions to prevent the disorder.

Keynote speaker Dr. Linda M. Goldenhar will discuss the role of safety climate, safety culture and safety leadership as part of a larger safety program to reduce or eliminate MSDs. Goldenhar, a behavioural scientist who is the director of research and evaluation at the Silver Spring, Md.-based CPWR – The Center for Construction Research and Training, will discuss her study on company stretch and flex programs, and how it led her to the insight that safety climate may be an important factor.

The results of that study indicated that, while companies believe that stretching and flexing is important, they also reported other benefits more related to safety climate, such as getting the crew together in the morning to stretch, says Goldenhar.

These findings emphasized to me that reducing or eliminating MSDs and other adverse safety and health outcomes using control measures is critical, and that we also need to consider how elements of safety climate and safety culture factor into the equation, she says.

Goldenhar will also share the research that led to a safety climate leading indicator workbook and measurement tool, which contractors, safety and health professionals and others can use to reduce MSDs and other work-related injuries in the construction sector and beyond.

Another keynote lecturer conference attendees will hear from is Dr. Jack Callaghan, a long-time researcher on the link between sitting and low-back pain who now finds himself in sudden demand, with the surge in interest in the negative health outcomes of prolonged sitting.

There has been a whole movement of what I would describe as demonizing sitting. People in the workplace are all of a sudden on a big kick of, ‘We shouldn’t be sitting,’ says Callaghan, University of Waterloo kinesiology professor and Canada Research Chair in Spine Biomechanics and Injury Prevention. But as ergonomists and musculoskeletal disorder prevention people know, there are also negative outcomes of prolonged standing.

Callaghan’s talk will cover ways to integrate sitting and standing at work, as well as the research challenge in determining the optimal mix between the two.

The fourth keynote speaker is Dr. Julie Côté, who will discuss how sex and gender differences can provide a useful lens for understanding MSDs. Côté, who holds a Research Chair in Gender Work & Health sponsored by CIHR and the Institut recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail (IRSST), will challenge the audience to think about differences between men and women that go beyond stature.

It used to be thought that men and women move the same way, says Côté, also associate professor at McGill University’s Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education and lab director of the university’s Occupational Biomechanics and Ergonomics Lab (OBEL) in Laval, Que.

We are beginning to understand now that men and women may even be different in the way they move, how they respond to and compensate for muscle fatigue, and how they respond to work exposures. Understanding these differences, she adds, may lead to important changes in how we develop interventions to prevent work-related MSDs.

PREMUS, the primary conference of the Musculoskeletal Disorders Scientific Community of the International Commission of Occupational Health (ICOH), has been taking place every three years since 1992. The 2016 conference is being put on by IWH with the support of a number of partners, including: the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Institute of Musculoskeletal Health and Arthritis, the CIHR Institute of Gender and Health, Ontario’s Ministry of Labour and the Provincial Building & Construction Trades Council of Ontario.