Safety Swap: Ergonomics as a Prevention Measure

Safety Swap: Ergonomics as a Prevention Measure

Preventing musculoskeletal injuries (MSIs) is a priority for SAFE Work Manitoba. Training employees about ergonomics may be Safety Swap the first step toward reducing these injuries. Ergonomics is an important topic for all industries. It involves not only the correct design of a workstation, but many other factors, such as the proper setup of workers on an assembly line, in a vehicle or using heavy equipment, and even the workflow of a task. 

Use this Safety Swap as a way to kick-start your next committee meeting.

What is a musculoskeletal injury (MSI)?

Manitoba workplace safety and health legislation defines an MSI as an injury or disorder of the muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, nerves, blood vessels or related soft tissue, including a sprain, strain or inflammation that may affect a worker in a workplace and that is caused or aggravated by any of the following hazards:
  • repetitive motion
  • forceful exertion
  • vibration
  • mechanical compression
  • sustained or awkward postures
  • limitation on motion or action


What is ergonomics?

Ergonomics is the science​ of matching the job to the worker, and the product to the user (Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety). Practising proper ergonomics and working in neutral postures can help prevent MSIs, which are the most common type of injury a worker can experience on the job. 

A review of manual material handling tasks, including pushing, pulling, lifting and carrying, is also important when talking about ergonomics. 

It is important to remember that ergonomics can be applied to every industry. From sitting at a desk to standing at an assembly line, ergonomics plays a part. For example, if you are bending over all day, every day, over time, you may start to feel soreness in your back or neck. You may also have sore feet and legs. 

To work ergonomically, a worker could raise the work surface to avoid excessive bending, perhaps adding an anti-fatigue mat or incorporating a stretching program to reduce any discomfort. 

How can the committee contribute to a workplace in reducing MSIs related to poor ergonomics? 

The committee can play a very significant role in creating a culture of safe ergonomics. For example, during inspections, the committee can observe workers on the assembly line to determine if they are bending, twisting or turning multiple times per shift. They might also look at work organization such as managing repetition, work flow or work design. The committee may also observe alternate workplaces, such as a vehicle or heavy equipment, to determine if there are hazards.  

Committee members can also serve as role models. If workers see that you are using proper body mechanics to lift or move a piece of equipment or practising a team lift, they will be more inclined to follow suit. Committee members can take MSI prevention or ergonomics training to ensure they are promoting the most appropriate methods of ergonomics. 

The committee can aim to empower workers to acknowledge and practise healthy ergonomics, and raise awareness of correcting or reporting issues to their immediate supervisor.
 

How does a committee member identify an MSI hazard?

Being armed with knowledge and understanding of ergonomics will be an asset to all committee members. Knowing what to look for during an inspection helps ensure that MSI hazards are recognized. 

If a committee identifies an MSI hazard, it may recommend an ergonomic control measure to mitigate or eliminate a hazard. For example, if committee members observe that workers are lifting 50 pounds of equipment multiple times per day, they may make a recommendation to get a mechanical lift to avoid manual lifting. The committee would be involved in making this recommendation.
 

If a worker talks to a committee member about an MSI concern or hazard, what does the committee member need to do?

As a safety and health committee member, you are a champion of safety and health at the workplace. If a worker approaches you about an MSI concern, it is important to take action. The first step is to ask them if they have spoken to their supervisor. The supervisor may already be taking care of the concern. 

However, if they have spoken with their supervisor and they have not had any movement on correcting the issue, the committee can perform a risk assessment with the employer and provide a recommendation to the employer. The employer then has 30 days to provide a written response to the recommendation. 

Check out this sample ergonomic risk assessment​ that can be used to ergonomically assess a work area.
  

Are there workshops that a committee member can take regarding MSI prevention and ergonomics?

Committee members are allowed up to two days of safety and health training per year. SAFE Work Manitoba offers several workshops; two pertain specifically to ergonomics and the prevention of musculoskeletal injuries. 

Building Office Ergonomic Champions: participants will learn the basic theory and components of office ergonomics, as well as information to help them improve the setup of work stations and promote neutral postures. 

Preventing Musculoskeletal Injuries: Participants will focus specifically on MSIs – how they develop, how to assess the risk of experiencing an MSI, how to prevent them from occurring and how to create proper safety and health policies when it comes to MSIs.

Check with your industry-based safety program for manual material handling training that will lead participants through a practical course on how to safely lift, carry, push and pull. 

Several ergonomics e-courses are available on the SAFE Work Manitoba website.​ 

Are there other resources the committee could use?

Since the committee is a leader in prevention of injuries and illness in the workplace, it is important to know where to find ergonomic resources. See the ergonomic safety topic for all of your ergonomic needs. 

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) has a variety of helpful ergonomic resources. Check out the CCOHS website here. 

SAFE Work Manitoba is always here to help, with any training, consulting or assessment needs. Click here for further information. 

Remember that if you have an IBSP, ergonomic assessments and training may be available as well. For more information on IBSPs, click here

Coming soon: an MSI tool kit for all of your MSI prevention and ergonomic needs!

Top Tips:

  • The committee plays a significant role in prevention of MSIs.
  • Training and awareness will help the committee better understand what to look for during inspections.
  • Understand what to do if a worker approaches a committee member about an MSI hazard.

Resources:

Share your ideas!

Share your ideas! If you would like to share your best practices with other safety and health committee leaders, we'd like to hear from you. Your idea might be featured in an upcoming issue of Safety Swap! Email information@safeworkmanitoba.ca for more information.

For more information: Call 204-957-SAFE (7233) or toll-free 1-855-957-SAFE (7233).

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