Workplace Safety: Pain In The Workplace

Pain In The Workplace

For some people, work can be a pain.

We’re talking real pain here, as in strains, sprains, pulls, tears and inflammation caused by lifting, shifting or just sitting.

What you’re moving around doesn’t have to be heavy, either. The truth is that if you’re  lifting heavy boxes with no regard to technique or proper equipment then you’re going to hurt something.

Of greater concern is the worker who finds out after 10 years of making the same motion on the job – even just clicking a mouse or twisting a screw driver– that they’ve inflicted permanent damage on their body.

From the construction sites of St. John’s to the mines of Fort McMurray, Musculoskeletal Injury (MSI), also called Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD) or Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), Cumulative Trauma Disorders (CTD) or Repetitive Motion Injury (RMI) are among the most common of workplace injuries.

Whatever you call it, it hurts both physically and financially.

WorkSafe BC says after falls, it’s the most common type of injury, making up about a quarter of all claims. The average time lost in that province is 62 days for each claim.

In Ontario, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) says they account for 40 per cent of all lost-time claims.

Most at risk are those doing repetitive work, exerting force, working in either awkward positions or in static posture, experiencing constant stress or pressure. And workers are most at risk near the end of the shift or workweek when their attention is as out the door as they soon will be.

Employers have a responsibility under health and safety rules to “take all precautions” and to enact best practices to protect their workers which means integrating an MSI prevention program in the workplace.

But how?

As with any aspect of workplace safety, supervisors must be empowered to recognize a problem and marshal resources to deal with it and to react positively when an employee reports an issue.

Employees too must play their part, maintaining safety focus throughout the shift and week. With some frequency, they need to remind themselves to:

  • ensure their posture is balanced and correct
  • not over reach
  • change how they use their main working hand in a repetitive task
  • stretch between actions
  • maintain their own fitness levels
  • be aware of and report anything which could be a hazard to their supervisor or manager immediately while also reporting any symptoms of strain which might be work related

The WSIB suggests a five step program to avoiding work-related MSI:

1. Set standards and expectations around how work is executed incorporating an MSI prevention strategy. Seek out and recognize MSI hazards through:

    • inspections
    • surveys
    • reports

Map out how that research will be done and how often and review and audit those tools

2. Communicate your expectations, identify who “needs to know” about MSI, plan how you will communicate (videos, posters, training)

3. Train everyone in MSI hazard awareness and prevention, early signs and symptoms, keep record of who has been trained in what

4. Audit the standards and expectation created in Step 1 to determine if they should be updated, review records and reports of MSI injuries; continue to reinforce the message

5. Evaluate to determine if the expectations set in Step 1 were met, and celebrate and acknowledge success

The goal, of course, is to continue to improve workplace safety around muscular strains and injuries. That can only be done if managers are committed to regular audits to determine when, where and how they have occurred in the past, and what needs to happen to prevent them from happening in the future.


  1. Continuous monitoring and mandatory rules for safety can help in reduce on-site accidents.

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