Material handling blitz #1: inspectors' MSD prevention priorities

Sep 04, 2015

Woman lifting boxDuring the Ministry of Labour's material handling blitz, running from September 14 to October 23, inspectors are asking employers about manual handling procedures, related worker training, and workplace supervision. "These are fundamental parts of a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) prevention program," says WSPS ergonomist Sandra Patterson.

MSDs such as strains and sprains are a ministry priority because they account for up to 47% of all workplace injuries involving lost time claims. Patterson encourages workplaces to take a short- and long-view approach to preventing these painful and costly injuries. Here's what she suggests.

The short view: what inspectors will be looking for

During the blitz, advises the ministry, inspectors will ask employers about tasks with the heaviest or most frequent manual handling to ensure employers have precautions and safeguards in place to protect workers. In particular, inspectors will check that employers are

  1. preventing back injuries by
    • protecting workers' backs and shoulders
    • ensuring safe lifting and moving of the heaviest and most awkward loads
    • ensuring safe procedures for repetitive activities involving material handling
  2. maintaining devices in good condition and inspecting them at least annually

Work shouldn't hurtUsing these considerations as a starting point, conduct a workplace inspection to identify quick win opportunities for improvement.

The long view: implementing an ergonomics and MSD prevention program

Patterson offers six suggestions for creating an effective, sustainable program.

  1. Develop an MSD prevention policy, procedure and/or statement. Include objectives, roles, responsibilities, and deliverables so that everyone understands upfront the nature, scope and intended results of the program.
  2. Make decisions through group consultation to improve the quality of solutions and increase buy-in.
  3. Evaluate the effectiveness of these controls once they have been implemented, and adjust as indicated.
  4. Involve the right people. Include:
    • management - a program champion can clear the path for implementing solutions,
    • health and safety personnel,
    • joint health and safety committee members or the health and safety representative,
    • engineering and maintenance, who can often help apply ergonomic principles early in the design phase of a new process or task so that you can eliminate or reduce repetitive movements, forceful movements, and fixed or awkward positioning,
    • purchasing, which can prevent ergonomic problems from entering the operation in the form of poorly designed tools and equipment. "The further upstream we can apply ergonomic principles," says Patterson, "the more easily we can eliminate hazards.",
    • supervisors, who are responsible for ensuring people use proper lifting and handling techniques,
    • workers - the job experts who are affected by any changes.
  5. Provide training on
    • general MSD awareness to all employees, including supervisors,
    • recognizing, assessing and controlling MSD hazards to everyone involved in MSD prevention (e.g., safety people, joint health and safety committee members or the health and safety representative, supervisors, workers…),
    • proper lifting techniques to supervisors and workers.
  6. Implement safer handling alternatives. Think outside the box. For example:
    • provide appropriate MSD-preventing material handling equipment, such as carts, dollies, pallet jacks, and manual forklifts,
    • avoid lifting loads from the floor by storing objects above standing knuckle height and below standing shoulder height,
    • minimize work above shoulder height; shoulder and arm muscles tire more quickly than those in the back and legs,
    • encourage more trips with lighter loads.

WSPS can help you in the short- and long-term

Learn more about the material handling blitz by watching a complimentary webinar featuring Sandra Patterson.

WSPS ergonomic specialists are on hand to help you assess hazards and implement solutions. For example, our specialists can assist you with

  • office and industrial ergonomic assessments
  • Physical demands analyses (PDAs)
  • Job task analyses

We also offer a comprehensive range of MSD resources, including classroom, self-study, on-site and custom training, and complementary downloads.