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Blitz Results: Preventing Musculoskeletal Disorders
(all sectors)

Safe At Work Ontario
  • Issued: February 2011
  • Content last reviewed: February 2011

The Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD) workplace inspection blitz from mid-September to mid-November 2010 contained a focus specific to each of the Ministry of Labour workplace health and safety programs (industrial, health care, construction, and mining). This follows a similar, shorter blitz in April 2009.

Inspectors checked for MSD hazards specific to workplaces in certain subsectors:

  • Industrial sector – retail stores
    • manual lifting and carrying on ladders
    • manual lifting of heavy objects by more than one worker
    • unnecessarily repetitive manual lifting, pushing, carrying
    • use and transportation of work carts
    • layout of cashier workstations.
  • Health care sector – hospitals
    • appropriate engagement of the Joint Health and Safety Committee with respect to MSD hazards
    • patient lifting, transferring and repositioning
    • use and transportation of carts in patient care and support services
    • laboratory workstation set up.
  • Construction sector – homebuilding
    • safe access/egress to a site above or below ground level
    • safe lifting and carrying of material and equipment
    • maintenance of work areas, tools and equipment
    • misuse of barrels or boxes as work platforms
    • policy, procedures and training on prevention of MSDs.
  • Mining program – underground and surface; pits and quarries
    • climbing in and out of vehicles
    • seating and layout of vehicle cabs
    • whole body vibration (road conditions)
    • stationary operator workstations (space, reach)
    • policy, procedures and training on preventing MSDs

Report Summary

  • Industrial — inspectors focussed on MSD hazards related to retail operations, including lifting and carrying
  • Health care — inspectors focussed on hospital MSD hazards, including workstation layout; lifting, transferring and repositioning of patients; and appropriate engagement of the Joint Health and Safety Committee.
  • Construction — inspectors concentrated on MSD hazards at homebuilding worksites, including safe access to the site and safe lifting and carrying of materials.
  • Mining — inspectors focused underground and surface operations, including MSD hazards related to vehicle operation.

Overall, the most common orders issued were time-based (i.e., not immediate stop-work) orders for training, equipment maintenance, clearing floors of obstacles, materials handling, and taking every precaution reasonable under the circumstances for the protection of workers.

This blitz followed a shorter one conducted in 2009. The annual rate of lost-time injuries arising from MSD-related workplace hazards is declining.

MSD prevention publicity

Ministry communication before and during the MSD hazards blitz promoted awareness of MSD hazards. The minister raised the issue in the Legislature, and enhancements to the Pains and Strains section of the ministry’s website has attracted substantial viewership.

The ministry has also developed MSD-prevention guidance sheets regarding use of ladders in industrial workplaces. Other promotion initiatives included media interviews and presentations at stakeholder meetings. Health and Safety Associations (HSAs) and employer associations have provided valuable support in publicizing MSD-related workplace hazards and ways to identify and deal with them.

MSD hazard training for inspectors

All ministry occupational health and safety inspectors, regional coordinators and managers have received special training. Ministry ergonomists accompanied inspectors on many workplace visits.

Blitz activity related to MSD hazards

During the two-month MSD blitz, inspectors paid 3,350 visits to 2,778 workplaces and issued 8,851 orders, of which 2,403 (27.1 per cent) were related specifically to MSD hazards, two-thirds more than during the one-month MSD blitz in 2009.

Overall, the most common orders issued were time-based and were for training, maintaining equipment, keeping floors free from obstacles, materials handling and taking every precaution reasonable under the circumstances for the protection of workers.


Industrial program – retail workplaces/hospitals

  • 2,395 visits to 1,915 premises
  • 6,767 orders (3.5 per premises)

The orders most often written under the Industrial Regulation related to obstructions on floors (interfering with safe movement of materials); unsafe material lifting, carrying and moving; unsafe storage of material; and lack of examination of lifting devices.

Health care program – hospitals

  • 144 visits to 106 hospitals
  • 302 orders (2.8 per hospital)

The orders most often written under the Health Care and Residential Facilities Regulation related to the absence of written measures and procedures on MSD hazards; lack of consulting with the JHSC on written measures and procedures or training; lack of an annual review of measures and procedures; unsafe handling and storage of materials; unsafe transportation and storage of materials; inadequate space beneath a seated laboratory workbench (“clutter”); and floors not cleared of obstructions and hazards.

Construction program – homebuilding

  • 802 visits to 728 projects
  • 1,939 orders (2.7 per project)

The orders most often written under the Construction Regulation related to unsafe access/egress to a site above or below ground level; debris and waste material not removed to storage; material moved and stored unsafely; route to/from a work area not maintained in safe condition; poor equipment maintenance; and boxes used as a platforms.

Mining program – underground and surface; pits and quarries

  • 153 visits to 135 workplaces
  • 145 orders (1.1 per premises)

The most common orders written under the Mining Regulation related to unsafe access to vehicles; vehicles not maintained in safe condition; haulage roads not well maintained; and unsafe access to equipment or workstations.

Background on workplace MSD hazards

The subtle and cumulative adverse effects of MSD hazards (such as forceful exertions, awkward postures and repetitive motions) can be difficult to detect.

Musculoskeletal disorders (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 (LTI) claim costs filed with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board in 2009. This equates to 28,570 claims, 912,785 days lost and $111,965,494 in WSIB costs.

From 2003 to 2009, the MSD LTI rate (Schedule 1) has declined 30 per cent overall. Of this decline, the largest gains occurred between 2008 and 2009, accounting for one-third of the reduction in the overall MSD LTI rate since 2003.

The MSD LTI rate (Schedule 1) declined by 14 per cent between 2008 and 2009. At the same time, there was a cost savings of approximately 23 per cent with the MSD costs being reduced from $127 million in 2008 to $98 million in 2009. This was the first year since 2003 that MSD related costs declined, reversing the general trend of increasing costs between 2003 and 2008.

Improved compliance arising from enhanced MSD hazard inspection and enforcement has generated positive outcomes such as:

  • more worker training
  • development of safer work procedures, and
  • improved equipment maintenance.

Workplace inspection blitzes

Inspection blitzes by the ministry are announced in advance and results are posted on the ministry’s website. The blitzes raise awareness of known workplace hazards and promote compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act and its safety regulations.

Inspection blitzes are part of the province’s Safe At Work Ontario compliance strategy. In selecting construction projects for proactive inspections, the ministry uses predictive indicators such as inherent hazards and poor records of compliance with safety regulations.

Inspectors’ findings determine their subsequent level of engagement and frequency of inspections of individual workplaces. Inspectors often refer employers to Health and Safety Associations for compliance assistance and training.

Compliance help for employers

Employers are encouraged to seek workplace health and safety compliance assistance from the health and safety associations that comprise Health and Safety Ontario: Infrastructure Health & Safety Association, Public Services Health & Safety Association, Workplace Safety North, and Workplace Safety & Prevention Services.

Moving forward

As the ministry begins to address the recommendations of the Expert Advisory Panel on Occupational Health and Safety, it will continue to focus on MSD hazards. This, will promote the merits of identifying and controlling MSD hazards as diligently as any other workplace hazard.