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Understand and prevent musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace

Published on 31 October 2019

In Ontario, the Ministry of Labour has announced it will conduct inspection blitzes on musculoskeletal disorders and respiratory hazards from Oct. 1 to Dec. 27. These blitzes will be across all industries.

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are injuries that develop from overuse of muscles, nerves and tendons. For example, tendonitis and carpal tunnel. These types of disorders can happen because of one incident or often occur because of a repetitive motion over an extended period of time.

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Employers must provide training and ensure workers understand safe manual materials-handling practices.

Employers must also ensure workers are aware of the MSD hazards in their workplace. Many factors can contribute to a hazardous load, some may include heavy, awkward or large items, or items that must be carried over a large distance.

There are three main contributions to MSDs:

1. Force: The amount of effort required by the body to perform a task such as lifting, pushing, pulling, carrying or gripping (The harder your muscles work, the more time is needed for those muscles to recover or an injury may occur.)

2. Frequency: Repeatedly performing tasks using the same muscle groups or motion

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3. Awkward posture: Places excessive force on the joints and overloads the muscles and tendons around the joint (If the awkward posture is static, held or maintained for an extended period of time, the risk of injury increases, as there is limited blood and oxygen flow. Static postures include holding an item above your head for an extended period of time.)

Symptoms of MSDs:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Pain
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Reduced range of motion
  • Weakness of the affected area

It is important to identify early signs and symptoms that indicate you are at risk of an injury and prevent it from happening. When employees recognize they are experiencing fatigue and discomfort or other early warning signs of MSD, they should be encouraged to report it to their supervisors and discuss strategies to prevent injury.

How to prevent MSDs

The best way to prevent MSDs is to stop it at the source.

1. When doing a repetitive task, change positions or take frequent breaks so you are not overexerting your muscles.

2. Try to identify the hazards before you lift an item. Is the item large, heavy or awkward? Even small items can be heavy or awkward to lift. Consider where you need to go. Ensure the pathway you will be taking is clear of hazards such as manure, tools and cords.

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3. If it is not safe for you to lift the item yourself, ask a co-worker to help or use a piece of equipment such as a forklift or small tractor.

4. It is best to push or pull loads instead of carrying whenever possible. Pushing on a wheeled cart is the preferred option, as it allows you to use the strong muscles of your legs.

5. Try to position material so it can be handled between your shoulders and knees, avoid lifting above your shoulders, and use both hands whenever possible.

6. Ensure you have a secure grip using your palms, not just your fingers, if possible. Try to position your hands so you will not have to switch your grip later.

7. When lifting an item from the ground, lift properly. Face the object, bend at the knees (not the back) in a squatting position and lift through the legs. This protects you from injuring your back.

8. While carrying an item, keep it close to your body. Additionally, do not drop the item on the ground; lower it down slowly and gently.

9. When lowering an item, bend at the knees into a squatting position, not at the hips. Again, you do not want to injure your back.

10. Avoid twisting at the hips and spine to transfer material; instead move your body by taking small steps or pivoting your feet; do not twist side to side.

11. Try to store regularly used or heavy items at waist level, not above the shoulders or on the floor.  end mark

References omitted but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor. 

Cheryl DeCooman, CHRL, can also be reached at (519) 532-2508 or on Twitter and Instagram.

Cheryl DeCooman
  • Cheryl DeCooman

  • President
  • People Management Group
  • Email Cheryl DeCooman

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