The Ergonomics Advisory Panel set up by Ontario’s government in March delivered its recommendations in October on how to protect the Canadian province’s workers from musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). “”We are now reviewing their report to help us implement strategies to protect workers from the effects of ergonomics-related
injuries,” said Ontario Labour Minister Steve Peters. The question is whether the strategies will have teeth.
The province sees MSDs as a serious drain on its economy. The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board reports that MSDs accounted for 40 per cent of all lost-time injuries in Ontario workplaces in 2003. It says MSDs cost businesses some $60,000 per injury in lost productivity, retraining, rehiring, damage to equipment and workers compensation insurance. MSDs can develop from the cumulative effects of repetitive, stressful or awkward movements that wear down bones, joints, ligaments and other soft tissues.
The panel recommends finding a common definition of MSDs so they can be tracked and analyzed, and integrating ergonomics into training for engineers, health care professionals and tradespeople. It also advises creating an inventory of existing ergonomics standards to help workplaces reduce MSDs.
Announcing the formation of the panel and its brief in March, Labour Minister Peters talked about the need for “decisive action” and indicated he expected recommendations for regulation and enforcement options to reduce workplace MSDs. There is no sign of either in the panel’s report. The question is whether Ontario will follow British Columbia and Saskatchewan and enact a standard with teeth, or opt for all-voluntary compliance.
The United States briefly had an ergonomics standard with teeth. One of the first acts of the US administration of President George W. Bush in 2001 was to rescind it. The Ergonomics Report