Ergonomics is a term used to describe the study of how we physically perform work and the influence our work environment may have on us. Over the years, the importance of ergonomics and ergonomic design in the workplace has been highlighted due to the number of workplace injuries (Musculoskeletal Disorders) that occurr as a result workplace design.

Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) are the number one type of work related lost time claim reported in Ontario to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). MSD injuries constitute 43% of all lost time claims and costs, as well as, 46% of all lost time days (average WSIB values from 2003-2007).

What are Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs)?

With a single type of injury being so prevalent in the workforce it is important to understand what exactly an MSD injury is along with what causes them to occur in the first place.

MSDs are injuries and disorders of the musculoskeletal system and can be caused or aggravated by a number of hazards or risk factors in the workplace. The musculoskeletal systems includes: muscles, tendons, tendon sheaths, nerves, bursa, blood vessels, joints/spinal discs, and ligaments. Any combination of these elements can be affected when it comes to MSD injuries.

It is important to note that MSD injuries occur over a period of time where “overuse” is occuring and are influenced by specific risk factors and hazards in the workplace.

MSD is used as a generic term that covers a number of different injuries that you may be familiar with, such as:

  • repetitive strain injury(RSI)
  • cumulative trauma disorder
  • musculoskeletal injury
  • occupational overuse syndrome
  • sprains and strains

Please note that Injuries that are a direct result of being struck or caught, a fall, collision, or any other cause other than physical over-exertion are NOT considered MSD Injuries.

Understanding Ergonomic Hazards

In order to be able to recognize, assess, and control MSD or ergonomic hazards it is important to be able to understand what are these hazards are in the workplace. Most ergonomic hazards can be broken down into three main categories:

  1. Force
  2. Fixed or Awkward Postures
  3. Repetition

MSDs have been strongly linked to these known risk factors in the workplace and it is important to consider their effects on the body. For each job or individual tasks it is important to look at all of the MSD hazards together since these hazards always interact and seeing the cumulative effect of the hazards may be an important part to reducing the injury risks.

Preventing MSD injuries

The MSD Prevention Program at Carleton University aims to reduce MSD injuries through a systematic process that provides employees with the tools and capabilities to recognize and assess MSD hazards, and provide cost effective solutions.

Responsibilities

Managers, supervisors, and staff have a responsibility to cooperate and actively participate in the program. For managers and supervisors, this includes performing risk assessments of the physical demands of your staff’s tasks and taking into consideration the employee’s history of MSD injury when assigning tasks. Staff/employee responsibilities include reporting MSD injuries, preventing injury by following safe ergonomic principles and seeking help from Carleton’s ergonomist as required. With the wide scope of this program it is a requirement to have the cooperation and active participation of all staff.

The Environmental Health & Safety Office offers ergonomic workstation assessments for all Carleton staff. Contact David Hunt to schedule an assessment.

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