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Blitz Results: Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) On The Job

Safe At Work Ontario
  • Issued: October 23, 2009
  • Content last reviewed: October 2009

Note: Although workplace inspection blitzes by the ministry are announced to the appropriate sectors in advance, individual workplaces receive no prior warning.

In April 2009, Ontario Ministry of Labour (MOL) inspectors conducted a blitz at workplaces in the construction, health care, industrial and mining sectors to check for hazards involving musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

This included identifying tasks that required workers to exert force in lifting, pushing or carrying items and tasks that put workers in awkward postures or were repetitive.

MSDs are the most common lost-time injuries reported to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).

Blitz activity

During the month-long MSDs hazards inspection blitz in April 2009, MOL inspectors visited 1,593 workplaces, including 1,329 in the industrial sector, 171 in health care, 79 in construction and 14 in mining. Some workplaces were visited more than once.

Results and order analysis

A total of 4,541 orders were issued in April under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Of those, 601 orders were identified as being related to MSD issues.

The high number of orders issued shows that many improvements are required to reduce hazards leading to MSDs.

The most commonly issued MSD-related orders required employers to:

  • Maintain equipment;
  • Provide information, instruction and supervision to workers;
  • Conduct a risk assessment;
  • Have a written policy or program for doing certain hazardous tasks;
  • Keep floors free of hazards;
  • Ensure workers are not endangered when handling materials;
  • Develop measures / procedures in consultation with a workplace’s Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC);
  • Put measures and procedures in writing;
  • Provide an adequate means of access and egress to worksites; and
  • Maintain a clear work space at an excavated site.

Workplace inspection blitzes

Inspection blitzes are part of the province's Safe At Work Ontario compliance strategy, launched in June 2008. In selecting workplaces for proactive inspections, the ministry uses predictive indicators that identify workplaces with inherent hazards and/or poor compliance with safety regulations.

Inspectors' findings determine the level of engagement and frequency of subsequent inspections of individual workplaces. Inspectors often refer employers to health and safety associations for compliance assistance and training.

The ministry announces blitzes in advance and works with its safety system partners to ensure resources are readily available to support workplaces in achieving voluntary compliance.

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.

On-the-job safety for workers

MSDs account for 43 per cent of all lost-time injuries in Ontario.

In 2007 this amounted to:

  • More than 35,000 injured workers;
  • A loss of more than 1.2 million working days; and
  • More than $133 million in medical and Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) costs.

Blitz focus

Inspectors focused on the following key priorities for each sector:

Construction Sector: Inspectors blitzed the homebuilding sector; giving special attention to low-rise “forms” (structures into which concrete is poured). They looked for tasks such as the carrying, erecting and stripping of forms. Inspectors also reviewed with employers in the homebuilding trades the risks associated with the use of vibrating hand tools.

Health care Sector: Inspectors focused their field visits on retirement and nursing homes, paying particular attention to the tasks of lifting, transferring and repositioning of residents. They checked written policies and procedures, training and supervision involving these tasks. They also checked whether assistive devices such as equipment for patient lifting, transferring and repositioning were properly maintained.

Industrial Sector: Inspectors focused on retail food sales establishments (i.e., grocery stores). In particular, inspectors focused on tasks involving the handling of products. These tasks included the receiving of products, how they were stored on racks, ease of access to all products in walk-in refrigerators/freezers and how products were transported throughout the store. Inspectors also checked cashiers’ work stations. Inspectors checked written policies and procedures, training and supervision involving these tasks.

Mining Sector: Inspectors focused on the safe handling of long hole, diamond and rock drills, jacklegs and stoppers and associated supplies. They also reviewed control measures being used to reduce the risk associated with vibrating hand tools.

Moving forward

Our first ever MSD blitz is part of a new approach to addressing MSD enforcement which fosters greater compliance and enhances partnerships with our stakeholders and health and safety system partners.

The MOL is committed to continuing to address MSD hazards identified throughout the blitz in the specific sectors and workplaces that were visited. We will follow up on the progress being made on the MSD issues identified. More detailed information about each of the sector blitz results, as well as a new, interactive tool to create awareness of MSD issues, will be available on our website next month.

Workplace parties are encouraged to work together to identify and control MSD hazards. For additional information on MSD hazards and what you can do to prevent MSD-related injuries, contact your workplace health and safety association.