In a first step toward reducing work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, an Ergonomics Advisory Panel delivered its recommendations to the province’s government in October.

As in the United States, MSDs account for a substantial percentage of all lost-time injuries in Ontario. According to the Ontario Ministry of Labour, MSDs “can develop as a result of the cumulative effects of repetitive, stressful or awkward movements that wear down bones, joints, ligaments and other soft tissue.” In 2003 (the latest year for which data is available), there were 41,670 lost-time MSD injuries in the province, about 40 percent of the total lost-time injuries, according to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.

Ontario Labour Minister Steve Peters thanked the advisory panel, saying, “We are now reviewing their report to help us implement strategies to protect workers from the effects of ergonomics-related injuries.”

The report focuses on four themes: (1) research and knowledge transfer, (2) education, outreach and best practices, (3) enforcement and motivators and (4) standards. Among its recommendations are:

  • Establishing a common definition of musculoskeletal injuries to help track and analyze trends
  • Integrating ergonomics into training for professionals like engineers, health care practitioners and skilled tradespersons
  • Creating an inventory of existing ergonomics standards to help workplace parties reduce MSDs

At this point, it is unclear whether the advisory panel or Ontario legislators think ergonomic regulations should be established in the province or throughout Canada. Currently, both British Columbia and Saskatchewan, two western Canadian provinces, have strong regulations in place. The panel said it was continuing discussion of “the merits, possible principles and scope” of an ergonomic regulation, and indicated that this would be the subject of a supplementary report which it will provide to the Ministry of Labour in January, 2006.

“As representatives of the common interests between Labourers and union construction contractors in Canada, we applaud the progress so far of the advisory panel,” said Canadian Tri-Fund Director Cosmo Mannella. “We know these injuries – particularly lower back strain – are among the most common in construction. They can end careers for LIUNA members, and they cost employers substantially in lost work time. The recommendation to improve ergonomics training for tradespersons, as well as their supervisors, is very important.”

The panel is chaired by Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn and consists of representatives from both labour and management groups:

  • Business Council on Occupational Safety and Health
  • Canadian Auto Workers’ Union
  • Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association
  • Industrial Accident Prevention Association
  • The Ontario Federation of Labour
  • United Steelworkers of America, Canadian National Office

[Steve Clark]