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How cannabis changes are helping a manufacturing facility prevent MSDs

Algoma fitness for duty

In fall 2017, a year before the recreational use of cannabis became legal, Tenaris's Algoma-Tubes facility began exploring how it might affect workplace health and safety. "We realized very quickly that the best response to this issue meant focusing on 'fitness for duty' and what it means in the context of work performed at Tenaris," says Rich Poirier, the company's Eastern Canada HESA Leader. "Fitness for duty covers prescription medication, physical demands, cognitive skills, fatigue, everything."

Tenaris is a global manufacturer and supplier of steel pipe products and related services for the energy industry and other industries. The Sault Ste. Marie site, where Rich is based, is Canada's only seamless pipe facility. Tenaris also has operations in Calgary, Sherwood Park, Grande Prairie and Nisku, Alberta, Bienfait, Saskatchewan, and St. John's, Newfoundland.

For Rich and his colleagues, applying the concept of fitness for duty meant understanding what was required to perform each job on the site. The goal, says Rich, was "to make sure we have the right person in the right job."

With help from WSPS, Tenaris created a roster or inventory of jobs, and began conducting:

  • ergonomic assessments of each job to identify musculoskeletal (MSD) hazards and reduce the risk of injury. MSDs represent the most common form of potential lost-time injury at Tenaris, and so are a key factor in ensuring employee fitness for work,
  • job demands analyses. Most analyses focus on physical demands, but Tenaris and WSPS took it further, objectively quantifying and describing not just physical but cognitive demands.

Rich describes including cognitive demands as "a big step in safety, probably the next generation." He explains that high cognitive demand tasks may require significant self-supervision, adaptability and flexibility, computer literacy, strong numerical skills, abstract thinking, and more. Low cognitive demand tasks may involve following known procedures, and solving routine problems.

What was driving the assessments? "Many of our employees started with us when the facility opened in the 1980s," explains Rich. "Tenaris took ownership in 2000. The nature of work has changed dramatically since then. In many jobs, the cognitive demands are much greater. Plus these employees are getting older. They are highly skilled, and we want to help them stay healthy and fit."

WSPS started assessing those jobs posing the highest potential or factual risk. To ensure they understood all the risks, WSPS actively involved workers and supervisors. Ensuring worker and labour buy-in was an essential part of the assessment process, says Rich.

How workplaces benefit from job demands analyses

Conducting physical and cognitive job demands analyses offers a number of benefits: they

  • identify opportunities to eliminate repetitive movement and awkward body positions - two risk factors for MSDs,
  • ensure a good fit between the person and the entire job, not just a specific task,
  • ensure all stakeholders - employers, supervisors, workers, workers' physicians, and their labour representatives - share the same understanding of what the job requires,
  • simplify return-to-work at a time where people are in need,
  • free supervisors from having to find suitable modified work so that they can focus on what they do best,
  • are scalable to the size of the organization. They're not just for large organizations. "The cost is based on your size," says Rich.,
  • may eventually pay for themselves. "We've been over a year without a lost-time injury."

Tenaris' results are so positive at this point that its other Canadian facilities are now conducting physical and cognitive physical demands assessments. Rich has also received queries from facilities outside of Canada.

How WSPS can help