CAMH improves office ergonomics through IWH online training program

About impact case studies

This impact case study is part of a series that illustrates the diffusion, uptake and outcomes of Institute for Work & Health research, based upon our research impact model. The model differentiates three types of impact:
Type 1: Evidence of diffusion of research
Type 2: Evidence of research informing decision-making at the policy or organizational level
Type 3: Evidence of societal impact

This is a Type 2 case study

Published: November 2013

As the number of knowledge workers across North America continues to grow, so too does the number of employees exposed to the potential hazards of working at computers for extended periods of time. Employees at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto are among them.

CAMH, Canada's largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital and research centre, employs over 2,900 people. More than 1,000 of them spend at least half of their working day in front of a computer.

So when the Institute for Work & Health invited CAMH to help design, develop and pilot an online office ergonomics training program, it was intrigued by the chance to take part—especially given that CAMH was in the midst of redeveloping its site. We had no office ergonomics training program at the time, says Mark Fernley, an education specialist in Education Services at CAMH. This seemed like a good opportunity to prepare our staff for an upcoming move to new buildings and offices.

It was a good opportunity, indeed. The pilot of the program was so successful that CAMH now offers the online ergonomics training to all of its employees. The training has also been integrated into its workstation injury protocol.

Training content is evidence-based and standard-compliant

The development of the training program began in 2010 after IWH received a Bridging the Gap research grant from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board Research Advisory Council (WSIB RAC). This type of grant encouraged researchers to partner with workplaces in order to put research evidence into action to fill real workplace needs. IWH approached CAMH to be its workplace partner, knowing the organization was already a leader in e-learning education for employees.

The first step was to develop the content of the training program. This was done by a team of researchers at the IWH, led by Associate Scientific Director Dr. Ben Amick and Project Coordinator Trevor King—in collaboration with Michelle Robertson of the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety in Hopkinton, Massachusetts. 

Together, they developed an in-person training program that was then reviewed by 13 experts in office ergonomics—both researchers and practitioners. These reviewers ensured the program was not only based on the latest evidence from ergonomics research, but also complied with established office ergonomics standards from the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) and American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

At this point, CAMH entered the picture. Its education experts and instructional designers worked closely with the IWH team to turn the in-person presentation into an engaging, online e-learning program. Usability testing from the University of Waterloo and focus groups with CAMH employees and the CAMH joint health and safety committee helped speed along the design of the prototype.

The end result was a nine-module office ergonomics training program, designed to teach CAMH employees about musculoskeletal disorders, common risks of computer work and office environments, and the controls needed to reduce and eliminate these risks. To determine if the program was an effective training tool, it was piloted among 72 CAMH employees.

The pilot showed that the program did have a positive effect on workers. The workers who took the online training increased their knowledge about the risks of computer work, improved their self-efficacy (i.e. confidence in their ability to adjust their workstation to suit their needs), made appropriate changes to the set-up of their workstations, and used available adjustments at their workstations to do so. Workers also improved their working postures and experienced less pain and/or discomfort at the end of their workday, following the training.

Training rolled out to all CAMH employees

Because of these positive findings, CAMH decided to make the online training available to all staff. In June, 2012 CAMH added the program to its learning management system as a resource. The office ergonomics training program is now the first place to which CAMH employees are directed when they highlight an issue or problem with their work area.

The training program has been well received by CAMH staff, reports Cheryl Peever of Health, Safety and Wellness at CAMH. People really like it and are finding it quite helpful, she says. They particularly seem to like the tips and stretches included in the program.

The online program has not only been well received by staff members, but also resulted in real benefits for the organization and workforce. It has reduced the number of full ergonomic assessments we have had to commission, says Peever. Many people are able to solve their issues by using the resource modules, rather than needing a full assessment and new equipment.