Advance notice: new CSA workplace ergonomics standard

Jan 23, 2012

CSA Z1004 ergonomics standardA new CSA workplace ergonomics standard scheduled for release in March will help workplaces reduce the risk of repetitive strain injuries by providing information and tools on identifying ergonomic hazards, assessing risks, and implementing a prevention and control program.

Ergonomics is the study of designing equipment and devices to fit the human body and its movements. Poor ergonomic design can lead to repetitive strain injuries, also known as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), which affect muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves. Injury examples include back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis and tenosynovitis.

Despite the frequency of MSDs, their cause and prevention remain a mystery to many workplaces. “Workplaces have made tremendous advances in terms of reducing the number and severity of traumatic injuries,” notes Norma McCormick, chair of the standard’s technical committee and principal of Corporate Health Works in Winnipeg, MB, “but we’ve had much less success in controlling MSDs. In Ontario, they account for 41% of all lost-time compensation claims.”

“For many people,” continues McCormick, “both MSD hazards and injuries may be less visible than traumatic injuries. It’s often easier to identify hot surfaces or sharp edges than awkward body movements or inaccessible operating controls (for examples of potential hazards, see ‘MSDs in our everyday work life,’ below). Another challenge with MSDs is that the effects are often cumulative. An MSD injury happens over time rather than in one moment. There may be a specific precipitating cause, but not an incident, like a burn or a cut.”

Ivan Szlapetis, an ergonomist with Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS) who’s had an advance look at the standard, says a key strength is that it encourages workplaces to follow the same “plan, do, check, act” process found in any hazard reduction program. “It’s also built on a quality improvement framework, which helps to translate ergonomics into a language that employers speak.”

According to Ron Meyers, project manager of CSA’s Occupational Health & Safety Program, making CSA Z1004 as user-friendly as possible was a primary goal of the technical committee. “To address the challenge of recognizing and controlling MSD hazards, we aimed to produce a document that describes the process of applying ergonomics to the design of workplaces and work practices, but we also wanted to help workplaces put this into practice, such as conducting a risk assessment and identifying solutions. Annex B of CSA Z1004 — Workplace Ergonomics, A management and implementation standard provides a number of practical tools that workplaces can use to develop and implement a program that suits the needs of their own workplace.”

Meyers adds that “CSA Z1004 takes a management system type of approach, like CSA Z1000 Occupational Health and Safety Management, so you can integrate it into an existing health and safety management system.”

If you don’t have a management system in place, you can apply CSA Z1004 on its own. “One of the things that was really critical for us,” says Norma McCormick, “was that CSA Z1004 be useful for all workplaces, including small and medium-sized businesses.”

MSDs in our everyday work life

In the process of doing our jobs, we may encounter many MSD hazards. The table below illustrates this through sample activities that could pose MSD hazards, and the parts of the body at greatest risk of injury.

Service Sector



Primary Body
Parts Affected

Tourism & hospitality

Housekeeping (making beds • cleaning tubs and toilets • collecting garbage • pushing cleaning cart up and down halls and in and out of rooms): variety of repetitive tasks involving bending, twisting, lifting, and over-reaching

Back, shoulders

Retail & wholesale distribution

Grocery checkout (scanning and bagging groceries): over-reaching for items • bending, twisting and lifting • handling large, awkward items • repetitive gripping and pinching with awkward wrist postures • prolonged standing

Back, shoulders, hands/wrists

Vehicle sales & service

Vehicle repair (reaching and accessing items under the hood, under the vehicle, and under the dashboard): lifting heavy, awkward items (tires, batteries), often in awkward postures

Back, shoulders, hands/wrists, neck, knees

Manufacturing Sector

Food & beverage

Lifting large bags, pails or bins of ingredients • repetitively reaching at arm’s length to package product • constantly gripping knife to cut • working in temperature extremes

Back, shoulder, hands/wrists, circulatory system

 Metal trades

Lifting heavy metal parts • welding in awkward postures • working with vibrating tools • repetitively bending into bins or down to pallets on the floor for parts • standing on concrete floors

Back, shoulder, hand/wrist, knees/legs

Autoparts manufacturing & assembly

Lifting parts repetitively from bins • wide hand grip to pick up parts • highly repetitive gripping, pressing and twisting with fingers • working with arms raised at or above chest height • vibration and repeatedly gripping of pneumatic wrenches • constant standing

Back, shoulder, elbow, hand/wrist, legs

Watch for more on CSA Z1004 - Workplace Ergonomics, A management and implementation Standard in upcoming issues of HSO Network News.

How we can help

Visit the Musculoskeletal Disorders topic page for additional information and resources.