• Issued: September 2005
  • Content last reviewed: June 2009

Although there is no specific requirement under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) or regulations to address ergonomic issues, employers have a general duty under Section 25(2)(h) of the OHSA to take reasonable precautions to protect workers from hazards that can lead to MSD.

Ministry inspectors and ergonomists issue orders under the general duty clause of the OHSA for ergonomic assessments and related preventive measures, such as orders for adapting workstations to meet the ergonomic needs of a worker, and training workers on proper body mechanics and lifting techniques, and also issue orders under regulation requirements, including manual materials handling and lighting.

The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) and the Health and Safety Associations (including twelve industry-based safe workplace associations, the Workers Health and Safety Centre, and the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers) also have staff ergonomists, and provide various tools, information, and ergonomic evaluations to assist workplaces in reducing the risks of MSD. The Occupational Health and Safety Council of Ontario (OHSCO) MSD sub-committee, with assistance from the Institute for Work and Health (IWH) and the Centre of Research Expertise in the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders (CRE-MSD) developed a system-wide coordinated strategy to address the MSD issue in Ontario. Part of the strategy includes a coordinated approach to services and information available to workplaces (refer to Appendix).

Many workplaces, unions and other organizations in Ontario have also worked to reduce MSD by developing and implementing ergonomics programs, publishing ergonomics information, and sharing best practices. For example, Ford Motor Company and the Canadian Auto Workers Union jointly developed and implemented an ergonomics program.

MSD Defined

The OHSCO strategy includes a working definition of MSD and methodology for data extraction to ensure consistency in understanding and messaging. The working definition is:

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) are injuries and disorders of the musculoskeletal system where exposure to various risk factors present in the workplace may have either contributed to the disorder's development, or aggravated a pre-existing condition. MSD have been related to various workplace risk factors, including, but not limited to:

  • repetitive, forceful or prolonged exertions
  • frequent or heavy lifting, pushing or pulling, or carrying of objects
  • fixed or awkward work postures
  • contact stress
  • local or whole-body vibration
  • cold temperatures
  • work organization (e.g. work-recovery cycles, task variability, and work rate)

MSD are injuries and disorders of the musculoskeletal system, which includes the muscles, tendons, tendon sheaths, nerves, bursa, blood vessels, joints and ligaments. For purposes of the OHSCO strategy, injuries/disorders of the musculoskeletal system that are the direct result of a sudden, single event involving an external source (e.g. a fall, vehicle accident, violence, etc.) are not considered to be MSD.1 ]

OHSCO Problem Scope[ 2 ]

  1. Nearly half of all lost time claims registered with the WSIB are related to MSD.
  2. Although there has been a general decline of WSIB accepted lost-time injuries, according to information obtained using the WSIB's Information Warehouse for the period 1996 to 2003, MSD accounted for:
    1. approximately 41 per cent of all lost-time claims;
    2. approximately 49 per cent of all lost-time-claim-related lost-time days; and,
    3. approximately 41 per cent of all lost-time benefit claim costs (averaged over the period).3 ]
  3. The percentage of lost-time MSD, compared to all other lost-time claims, has remained relatively stable in each of the past eight years.
  4. Direct costs due to lost-time MSD for the period 1996 to 2003 totalled more than an estimated $3 billion. Conservatively, the sum of the direct and indirect costs due to lost-time MSD is estimated to be approximately $12 billion.4 ]
  5. The costs of non-lost-time MSD claims have not been included in the above statistics. However, the strategy will help reduce the number of lost-time and non-lost-time MSD in Ontario by eliminating where feasible, or minimizing MSD risk factors in Ontario workplaces.
  6. Consequently, the magnitude of this problem continues to pose a threat, not only to the health and safety of Ontario workers, but also to the province's economic performance.

[ 1 ] Claims related to repetitive exertions, manual material handling (e.g. back strain from a single push/pull incident) and awkward postures are included. See the OHSCO strategy document for a full list and description of codes included.

[ 2 ] Section is adapted from the Occupational Health and Safety Council of Ontario (OHSCO), "Prevention Strategy for Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD) in Ontario". March 2005. pp. 2-3.

[ 3 ] This is updated data made available since original OHSCO MSD Prevention Strategy was approved.

[ 4 ] Business Results Through Health & Safety, Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters and Workplace Safety And Insurance Board, 2002 p.18

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