Feb. 28, 2014, marks the 15th annual International RSI Awareness Day. This day was created by injured workers and labour activists to bring awareness and action to the growing epidemic of repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) or musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
Repetitive strain injuries and MSDs are umbrella terms to describe a family of painful disorders affecting tendons, muscles, nerves and joints in the neck, upper and lower back, chest, shoulders, arms and hands. These disorders can be caused by work activities that are frequent and repetitive, or activities with awkward postures.
MSDs can be caused by work activities that are frequent and repetitive, or activities with awkward postures, including fixed or constrained body positions; continual repetition of movements; force concentrated on small parts of the body, such as the hand or wrist or a pace of work that does not allow enough rest between movements. Heat, cold and vibration may also contribute to the development of WMSDs. These disorders are generally caused by a combination of these factors — rather than one individual factor, according to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS).
A fundamental principle of occupational health and safety is that hazards are best eliminated at the source. In the case of MSDs, the prime source of hazard is the repetitiveness of work. Prevention must aim at eliminating the repetitiveness of the work by proper job design. Where this is not possible, preventive strategies such as good workplace layout, tool and equipment design, and proper work practices should be considered. It is important to recognize these disorders early because medical treatments become less effective the longer these injuries go on, said CCOHS.
Preventive and control measures, in order to be truly effective, require significant involvement on the part of the workers, their representatives, and management to improve occupational health and safety.
The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) is pushing for ergonomics regulations across the province.
“If voluntary measures worked, we would already see these interventions in every workplace across Ontario,” said the OFL. "Legislation is necessary to drive employers to make the investments necessary to protect workers from these devastating and life altering injuries.”
In Ontario about 40 per cent of all lost-time injury claims at the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) are a result of RSIs or MSDs. As with many other types of injuries many more RSIs and MSDs go unreported, said the OFL.
Ergonomic regulations would require that workplaces, work stations, tools, equipment and the organization of work be designed or changed to prevent these types of injuries, it said.