Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) cause pain and suﬀering for thousands of workers every year, and are the number-one type of work-related lost-time claim reported to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) in Ontario. In 2007, they accounted for 43 per cent of all lost-time injuries in Ontario.
Numbers like these spurred the Occupational Health and Safety Council of Ontario (OHSCO) to develop the MSD Prevention Guideline. Officially released in 2007, the guideline, along with a supporting resource manual and toolkit, provided a recommended framework for employers and workers to prevent MSDs in the workplace.
As a member of OHSCO—a prevention partnership that also included the WSIB, Ontario Ministry of Labour (MOL), health and safety associations (HSAs) and workers’ organizations—the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) played a pivotal role in the development and dissemination of the guideline. That role called on the Institute’s research expertise to ensure the guideline was evidence-based, and its knowledge transfer expertise to increase the uptake of the guideline.
IWH helps define and quantify MSDs
IWH first helped lay the groundwork with respect to defining MSDs and quantifying the scope of the problem. IWH Associate Scientist Dwayne Van Eerd analyzed a detailed coding system and methodology for classifying WSIB claims as MSD-related. He verified that the coding was relatively accurate and consistent, lending confidence to the idea that the data collected was dependable for analytical purposes.
This was useful information to have, says Jonathan Tyson, chair of the OHSCO MSD Prevention Committee and the person responsible for heading up the guideline’s development.
People in industry often think the WSIB misclassifies claims [and thus inflates the number of MSDs]. With this IWH research, we were able to show that wasn’t true, that we were quite certain any numbers we came up with would under-represent the true number of MSDs.
IWH also convened a meeting of international scientific experts to discuss the methods and procedures for MSD hazard identification and risk assessment being contemplated by the guideline. In June 2006, MSD experts from Europe, United States and Canada—including IWH’s Dr. Donald Cole and Dr. Cameron Mustard—confirmed the OHSCO initiative was on the right track.
Kiera Keown, a knowledge transfer associate at IWH, became a sitting member of the OHSCO MSD Prevention Committee in early 2006. Working closely with Tyson, she played a key role in the tool development process, and was particularly helpful in bringing stakeholder feedback about the tools to the committee and then feeding back the committee’s responses to stakeholders.
The support of IWH from the beginning, and during the committee process, was invaluable, Tyson says of the guideline development process.
Guideline forms backbone of Ministry initiatives
The guideline became an essential ingredient of the Pains and Strains campaign launched in January 2006 by the MOL. That campaign addressed MSD hazards as part of the MOL’s High-Risk Initiative, which proactively inspected firms with poor MSD injury records, and conducted MSD “blitzes” during which inspectors from the manufacturing, health-care, construction and mining sectors paid particular attention to MSD hazards.
These initiatives would not be possible without the guideline behind them, says Anne Duffy, the MOL’s provincial ergonomist.
We cannot enhance enforcement without resources being available to the workplace parties to help them understand what needs to be done. The guideline was critical for that.