On Feb 28, we mark the 18th 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).
RSIs and MSDs are generic terms that refer to both long term chronic and acute injuries which damage the muscles, nerves, tendons and/or ligaments that affect millions of Canadians each year. RSIs develop through repetitive, forceful and/or awkward movements. These injuries can be life-altering, interfering with not just the ability to continue working but with everyday tasks. Simple things people take for granted such as brushing teeth, carrying groceries or caring for young children become impossible tasks.
These types of injuries often start with aches and pains. The resulting aches and pains can progress into crippling and permanent disabilities that too often rob workers of their ability to earn a living, their mobility and their dignity.
In Ontario approximately 40 to 45% of allowed 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. Approximately a third of the Ontario workforce does not have WSIB coverage so these statistics do not include these workers.
Interventions involving ergonomics, engineering, proper work organization, work design and education can go a long way in preventing these injuries.
Ergonomics can be defined as fitting the job to the worker. All workers are not the same size and everyone has limits. The goal of ergonomics is to design workstations, work procedures, equipment and tools to fit the individual.
For years, the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) and injured worker groups have been working to raise awareness on this issue. Our organizations, the Workers Health and Safety Centre (WHSC) and Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) have developed information, materials, guides and training workshops on RSIs, MSDs and ergonomics. These are intended to give workers and their representatives the skills to recognize and prevent these injuries. The OFL’s Prevention Link Project provides resources on disability prevention and Return to Work as it relates to RSI.
As they have for many years the WHSC are offering discounted workshops across Ontario. OHCOW is once again offering a free interactive web-based conference on February 28th. Activists in communities around the world are organizing events in recognition of this Day.
Unfortunately, we know all too well that awareness is not enough to convince employers to implement the interventions needed to prevent workers from being injured. If voluntary measures worked, we would already see these interventions in every workplace across Ontario. Legislation is necessary to drive employers to make the investments necessary to protect workers from these devastating and life altering injuries. Lobbying efforts will need to continue until ergonomic legislation is passed.
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. We also know from experience that once the legislation is passed the efforts to see it enforced begins.
Our message to this government must be loud and clear, “Support Ergonomic Regulations.”
For more information on the resources and training available: