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Year-long inspection blitz seeks out MSD hazards in warehouses

Year-long compliance initiative seeks out MSD hazards in warehouses

An ergonomics compliance initiative by the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development (MLTSD) gets underway on May 1 in warehouses, distribution centres and other manual materials handling environments, such as retail storerooms.

The focus is on manual materials handling hazards that could lead to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), falls from ladders, and visibility hazards involving mobile equipment, says WSPS Specialized Service Lead (Ergonomics) Don Patten.

Don notes that the rate of MSDs in Ontario warehouses is well above the provincial average. Statistics from the MLTSD and Workplace Safety & Insurance Board (WSIB) show

  • MSDs are the number one type of lost-time work injury reported to the WSIB[1]
  • MSDs (strains and sprains) represented 31% of all allowed lost time injury claims in 2020[2]

Don provides more insight on what inspectors may look for and steps you can take in any workplace to reduce manual materials handling hazards.

6 things inspectors may look for

Don anticipates inspectors will watch for the following:

  1. employers have provided training on safe manual materials handling practices. "Your training should teach proper lifting and work techniques to prevent MSDs. This training should be ongoing. Applying proper lifting techniques adapted to your work environment is a learned skill that requires practice."
  2. items are manually handled in a safe manner. "In addition to training, have you implemented engineering and administrative controls to eliminate excessive force, awkward postures and repetition, the primary causes of MSDs?"
  3. items are stored so they can be placed or withdrawn in a safe manner. "For example, putting bulky items above head height can increase the risk of MSDs or injuries from stored goods falling on the worker."
  4. obstructions or hazards on the floor are not interfering with manual material handling activities. "A good housekeeping program will reduce the risk of MSDs and other injuries. It prevents scenarios where workers must anticipate events. For example, if I am carrying a large box and housekeeping is poor, I might have to bend or twist my back to see around the box to ensure I won’t trip or slip."
  5. Safely handling items while on a ladder. "Training in ladder safety is essential for all workers. In addition to the risk of falling associated with carrying boxes down ladders, there are many MSD risks. Here's one example: if a 5-kilogram box is two feet away, and I have to lean beyond the ladder to grab it, this will put an excessive load on my shoulder."
  6. measures are being taken to ensure vehicular and motor vehicle use does not endanger the safety of any worker. "Line of sight hazards are one of the concerns inspectors will focus on. Check out other warehouse MSD hazards here."

4 steps to reduce risks

  1. Identify MSD hazards now by inspecting the workplace with your joint health and safety committee.
  2. Re-train employees on manual materials handling techniques, safe lifting, and MSD awareness. Make sure manual materials handling training is specific to the conditions of your workplace. "Generic training will cover lifting techniques, twisting, and reaching, but what if employees are required to lift an object in less than optimum conditions? Would they know how to adapt without increasing the risk?"
  3. Identify areas of high risk based on injury rates and find ways to minimize risks. If you don't have inside expertise, WSPS consultants can help.
  4. Invest in an ergonomics program or identify gaps in your existing health and safety program. "The nature of ergonomics means that it exists in your workplace in one form or another. The decisions you've made likely have had a positive effect on MSD prevention. Build up your program to replicate success everywhere."

How WSPS can help


A WSPS consultant can assist your business with:

  • MSD hazard identification
  • program audits
  • ergonomics assessments
  • ergonomics program building (phased approach)
  • Safe lifting and manual material handling coaching



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The information in this article is accurate as of its publication date.



[1] "2020 allowed lost-time claims by leading nature of injury," By the Numbers: 2020 Statistical Report, Workplace Safety & Insurance Board (WSIB);

[2] "2020 allowed lost-time claims by leading nature of injury," By the Numbers: 2020 Statistical Report, Workplace Safety & Insurance Board (WSIB);