October is Global Ergonomics Month - a perfect time to introduce changes in your workplace that reduce the risk of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and improve productivity, says WSPS ergonomist Sandra Patterson. "MSDs consistently remain the single biggest cause of lost workdays, and they occur in every industry sector and age group. Make big gains against these injuries by launching your own campaign during Global Ergonomics Month."
Patterson's not talking about a few posters and leaflets. Instead, she has 12 targetted suggestions for mounting a campaign that engages all employees in cost-saving and productivity-boosting MSD prevention.
- Tell employees what you're planning for Global Ergonomics Month and why to generate buzz, raise awareness of MSD hazards, and encourage input.
- Watch out for new WSPS communications tools - an infographic poster, daily MSD prevention tips from WSPS ergonomists, and a short video featuring Sandra Patterson. A dedicated WSPS Global Ergonomics Month web page will be introduced in October.
- Organize a lunch 'n learn or safety meeting with a guest speaker. New faces and voices get more attention than the same old. Use the event to establish a baseline understanding of MSD hazards and everyone's role in identifying hazards.
- Talk to workers. "You can't address MSD issues successfully without getting worker input," says Patterson. "They know the job best and can often suggest low-tech, low-cost solutions." As for who could start the conversations, Patterson suggests;
- a committee specifically created to identify MSD issues and solutions,
- the joint health and safety committee (JHSC).
Include non-verbal opportunities, such as comment or suggestion cards. Provide an incentive, says Patterson. "I know of one workplace with a roulette wheel. Each month everyone who submitted ideas is entered into a prize draw. They spin the wheel to identify the specific prize they win, such as a $2 gift card for Tim Horton's. If their idea is implemented, they're entered into another draw for larger prizes."
- Conduct a Global Ergonomic Month walkthrough. Invite senior management, certified JHSC members and other stakeholders on a good news tour of hazards already identified and resolved. Briefly discuss what could have gone wrong if hazards hadn’t been identified, and why specific solutions were implemented. If you come across new hazards, refer them to the JHSC and move on.
- Keep an eye out for "home remedies" implemented by workers. For example: padding on a hand tool or a sharp corner of a workstation. "These changes indicate a problem that needs an organizational rather than ad hoc solution," says Patterson. "Ask other workers if they are experiencing similar problems. Also, explore why they’re trying to solve problems on their own instead of bringing them forward."
- Include MSD hazards on the JHSC's monthly inspection checklist, and ensure JHSC members have the understanding and awareness to recognize these hazards. "Certified members will already have some awareness, but not all JHSC members are certified."
- Schedule additional training for JHSCs and supervisors on how to address MSD hazards. To be considered "competent" under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, "a supervisor must… know about any actual or potential health and safety hazards in the workplace." *
- Challenge supervisors and workers to recommend process changes that reduce MSD risk and maintain or improve productivity. Provide an incentive, and create a process for evaluating the suggested changes.
- Challenge your HR people to come up with recommendations based on workplace statistics. "And not just your WSIB stats," says Patterson. "Track productivity, quality and turnover rates. Is HR always posting ads for the same position in one department? If so, what's behind the turnover?" As well, encourage HR to look at absenteeism, short and long-term disability, and benefits usage on an aggregate basis.
- Create a plan to address issues identified through your Global Ergonomics Month activities. Include a proposed timeline for implementing solutions. "There's such a wide range of things people can do, and many are low- or no-cost, such as adding ergonomic criteria to the purchasing process."
- Communicate the results of your campaign, including employee contributions, solutions and next steps.
How we can help
"WSPS ergonomists can deliver lunch 'n learns, work with your JHSC on their inspections, and help you devise a sustainable, results-based MSD prevention program," says Patterson. "Whatever we do, we can customize it to the client's specific needs."
WSPS also has extensive online resources, including on-site, classroom and online training, webinars, articles, a downloads, pictograms, and more. Visit our MSDs topics page.
* Who is a Supervisor under the Occupational Health and Safety Act