How gender can impact your MSD risk

Jan 19, 2018

gender and msdsDo you consider gender differences when designing your workplace? It's important to recognize and understand that there are a range of needs in your place of work.

"Research on how working conditions affect our health has typically focused on men. The few studies on women focus on more stereotypical or traditional sectors, such as health care, hospitality and textiles," says WSPS Consultant Sarah Hobbs. "But these days, women represent almost half of the Canadian workforce and work in all industry sectors."

Claims statistics indicate that men typically report injuries in their low backs, whereas women predominantly report injuries in their upper bodies, including necks, shoulders, and wrists. This is partially due to differences in anatomy and stature, as well as traditional workplace roles (e.g. more physical work for men, and more computer work for women). However, we're starting to see less traditional gender roles across all workplaces, with men and women completing similar tasks.

What role gender plays in health and safety is the subject of a 5-year research project undertaken by the Institute for Work & Health1. WSPS eNews will report on results once the project wraps up later this year, but in the interim Sarah offers 10 gender-neutral best practices for reducing the risks of MSDs.

  1. Review your data for injury trends. Try to find connections between gender, location/task and injury. Do you see different injury rates among men and women doing the same job? Injury hotspots? Do you have more women working in one location versus men in another?
  2. Make multi-user workstations as adjustable as possible. Height is a key consideration, so make sure people can work at the optimum height.
  3. Include MSDs during monthly inspections. Look for changes workers have made to their workstation. These homemade remedies - a monitor stacked on books, duct tape blunting the corner of a desk, a milk crate to stand on - are tell-tale signs that something's not right.
  4. Watch employees for a couple of minutes to get a sense of the repetition involved in the task. How neutral is the required posture? How far does the worker have to reach? How high? How low? Are they lifting or moving heavy items? Are they showing any physical discomfort when performing the task? Ask the workers for input and use our downloadable MSD hazard checklist to assess force, posture, and repetition factors.
  5. Rotate people through tasks or jobs so they're not performing the same movements all the time. It's important to use a range of muscle groups.
  6. Provide breaks. For repetitive tasks such as keyboarding, the Ministry of Labour recommends five-minute micro breaks every hour.2
  7. Conduct a discomfort survey. We have a downloadable survey that includes a diagram of the human body, so that people feeling discomfort can indicate where. They can also rate pain on a 1-10 scale.
  8. Encourage open communication so workers feel comfortable reporting any discomfort or hazard, just making sure that they're reporting that to their supervisor, manager, etc. to get the ball rolling.
  9. Promote wellness. Offer stress-related webinars or workshops. Encourage employees to use all their vacation time.
  10. Train JHSC members or health and safety representatives on MSDs and ergonomics, to help inform their inspections. Educate all employees on MSD prevention so they know what to look for and when to report a hazard or injury. Include prevention tips on health and safety boards on internal websites to keep workers aware.

How WSPS can help

We have everything you need to understand MSDs, assess risks, and implement a prevention program:

  • Check out our MSD resource page for free downloads, as well as training courses, guidelines, and articles.
  • Watch 20-8-2: Work Smarter, Not Harder. This short video encourages viewers to move more, move often, and explains the 20-8-2 rule to promote movement: sit for 20 minutes, stand for 8, and move or gently stretch for 2. It's a great awareness tool for all employees.
  • Invite a WSPS ergonomics specialist to conduct a 2-hour onsite awareness session.
  • Have a chat with an ergonomics specialist in your area. Call Customer Care, 1-877-494-WSPS (9777).

1 The institute is exploring the role of gender and sex in three different work-related areas: (1) risk of work injury, (2) recovery and return to work following work injury, and (3) the relationship between the psychosocial work environment (e.g., low job control, psychological demands) and chronic illness (e.g., development of hypertension and diabetes). Find out more about the Gender, work and health research.

2 Rest Breaks for Computer Operators | Health and Safety Guideline, Ministry of Labour