MSD prevention: how Natrel won over its Orleans workforce

Aug 15, 2012

Last fall, Natrel’s Orleans, Ontario plant embarked on an ambitious musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) prevention program. At its core: ergonomic assessments on which the facility could build an MSD hazard reduction strategy. A key success factor for plant manager Craig Levia was ensuring employees understood and bought into the process.

The plant is one of a number operated in North America by Natrel and its parent organization Agropur Cooperative. These plants receive shipments of raw milk, pasteurize it, and make it into a range of dairy products, including milk, yogurt and cheese. The products are then packaged and shipped to customers.

Material handling occurs at almost every stage of production, and has contributed to MSD injuries. “Almost half of our injuries are MSD-related,” says Nasir Saeed, Natrel’s regional prevention manager.

MSDs are the number one lost-time work injury reported to Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, representing 43% of all claims,1 and Natrel’s MSD injury rate was not much different. This was unacceptable to Saeed, Levia and Natrel. In fact, the firm has designated MSD prevention a corporate priority.

Saeed’s goal is to reduce this percentage by half among the plants he’s responsible for, including Orleans. Helping employees stay healthy will also improve productivity and cut costs, he says. But for the MSD strategy to succeed, workers had to be active participants.

Saeed’s involvement in the MSD strategy was part of a broader corporate decision to provide plants with greater support by hiring regional prevention managers. “Once we came on board, we began providing the plants with additional support to address health and safety issues they had identified.

“This is when we brought Dave Mitchell in to conduct ergonomic assessments at the Orleans plant,” says Saeed. Mitchell is an ergonomist with Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS).

Ergonomic assessments of the Orleans plant had been conducted before. However, they were mostly collecting dust. The problem was not the quality of the assessments, but the language used. They were written for a professional audience, not for supervisors and workers. The technical language made it difficult for staff to act on the information.

“Craig Levia told Dave we needed assessments that our employees would understand, and would produce results,” explains Saeed. He, Levia and Mitchell together devised an effective approach that would also show employees that the company was listening and acting. “Craig is very proactive, and results oriented,” says Saeed, “so he’s been very instrumental in how we designed our approach, encouraging supervisor and worker support, and setting manageable expectations.”

Winning staff over

“From the beginning,” says Saeed, “we knew we needed the supervisors and workers to buy into our plans and provide input so that it became everyone’s project rather than just a management project.” Here are just some of the ways in which Natrel’s Orleans plant won employees over to its MSD prevention plan:

  • establishing a shared understanding of MSDs through an onsite awareness course delivered by WSPS’s Dave Mitchell.
  • conducting a pilot assessment so that the plant could see how the process worked, get a sense of what would come out of it, and make modifications before rolling it out.
  • assessing virtually all job functions, so that every employee could participate in the MSD prevention strategy. Mitchell recommended starting with functions that involved the greatest number of workers “to get the biggest bang for your buck right from the beginning in terms of reducing risks, but also to ensure workers see change taking place.” The plant acknowledges that assessing every job function called for a significant investment in time and resources. However, making proactive, preventive investments now means fewer reactive investments later. For instance, fewer injuries and lower operational costs.
  • accommodating supervisors’ and workers’ schedules to minimize disruption. “Supervisors were concerned about maintaining production,” says Saeed, “but they were very cooperative, and Mitchell worked closely with them to minimize downtime. He would even come in during the night shift to meet with workers and supervisors.”
  • discussing immediate observations with workers as Mitchell was conducting his assessments. “Assessments capture just one moment in time,” he says. “Adding feedback from people who actually do the job every day can enrich the process and the results.”
  • producing brief assessment reports that state issues and recommendations in clear language so that workers and supervisors can understand and take action.
  • discussing and updating the assessment reports with the affected workers and their supervisors so that everyone has a chance to hear what the assessment found, ask questions, and comment. “I went through the assessments with them line by line, invited feedback, and revised my reports to accommodate their feedback,” says Mitchell. For Saeed, “Besides adding value to the process, this really helped the workers understand that their input had been incorporated.”
  • training supervisors in safe lifting techniques, so they can disseminate the learning to their respective employee groups.
  • producing a master report, including short- and long-term solutions, so that the firm could prioritize the recommendations and create an action plan. Implementation is well underway. Some changes have no costs associated with them, such as adjusting the height of work stations or increasing job rotations. Others require a capital investment, which the plant can budget for.

Staff response

“Workers and supervisors responded positively to the training and assessments,” says Saeed. “Everybody has a better sense of what causes MSDs and how to prevent them, and a common language for discussing concerns and identifying solutions.

“This has encouraged workers to become more proactive in raising concerns, and supervisors are better able to coach workers and organize work in ways that minimize the risk of injury, such as rotating jobs and adjusting job functions.

“People realize that there are options available to them.”

Building on success

Natrel has already engaged Mitchell to conduct assessments in its Don Mills plant. “His recommendations are also being looked at by some of our other locations,” says Saeed. “Many plants have similar job functions, so they can benefit from the knowledge we’ve gained at the Orleans plant.”

How WSPS can help

Workplace Safety & Prevention Services offers an extensive list of MSD prevention resources.

Ergonomists like Dave Mitchell provide these consulting services:

    • ergonomics assessments
    • implementation of MSD prevention programs
    • training for ergonomics change teams
    • job task analyses
    • physical demands analyses
    • safety talks, such as Back Care, General Ergonomics Awareness, Industrial Ergonomics, and Office Ergonomics

Other options include:

  • classroom and on-site training
  • self-study training and awareness
  • e-learning
  • downloads

Find out more:

1 Source: "Why are Pains and Strains / Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) a Problem," Ontario Ministry of Labour