What are musculoskeletal disorders?
They are a range of disorders involving muscles, bones, tendons, blood vessels, nerves and other soft tissues. The most common term used to describe these disorders is Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI). Some examples of musculoskeletal disorders are Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Tendinitis, Tenosynovitis and Bursitis.
Who is at risk?
Every worker in education who:
- Maintains fixed positions
- Performs repetitive movements of the limbs
- Overloads particular muscle groups
- Applies pressure on body parts
- Uses forceful movement
- Works with great speed along with repetitions
What are the symptoms of musculoskeletal injury?
- Pain in the hands, arms, shoulders, neck, back, legs or feet
- May include swelling, numbness, tingling and a feeling of heaviness and/or tiredness in the affected area
- Some workers may experience multiple symptoms due to more than one injury
Severity of symptoms varies from person to person:
- Stage 1 — Dull aching pain/fatigue which disappears with rest.
- Stage 2 — Recurrent aching/fatigue which begins after work starts and continues after work ceases. Fatigue often present due to intermittent night pain. Reduced capacity to perform repetitive daily tasks.
- Stage 3 — Inability to perform daily tasks. Persistent aching and fatigue. Weakness while at rest as well as pain even with non-repetitive movement.
What should you do if you think you have a work-related musculoskeletal disorder?
At the first signs of Stage 1 symptoms notify your:
- Supervisor (i.e. Principal or Manager). Ensure that the supervisor completes a "Form 7" from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) and give it to your supervisor who submits it to the WSIB.
- OSSTF/FEESO Health and Safety Officer or your OSSTF/FEESO member of the Joint Health and Safety Committee, and your Bargaining Unit President.
See your physician or chiropractor. Be able to describe in detail your workplace and work practices to assist in a diagnosis. Ensure that your doctor or chiropractor fills out a Form 8 (Doctor's first report) and submits it to WSIB.
- You are entitled to claim compensation through WSIB for injuries or disease caused or arising out of your work.
- Do not continue any task that has caused injury unless adjustments have been made to prevent the injury from recurring. Ask that you be accommodated within your restrictions.
Each task that has the potential to cause injury should be evaluated thoroughly by both the worker and the employer/supervisor, and adjustments made so the work is safe.
- No worker should do a task until it has been modified to prevent injury. You may exercise your Right to Refuse Unsafe Work. (See "Your Right to Refuse Unsafe Work")
- If the task is refused as unsafe and is assigned to another worker, the employer or supervisor must inform that worker that the work had already been refused as unsafe [OHSAct s.43 (11)]. The newly assigned worker may also exercise the right to refuse unsafe work.
How do you prevent musculoskeletal injury?
- Ensure that the employer provides:
- an analysis of the ergonomics of the work you perform
- ergonomically designed work stations and tools
- training in lifting and carrying procedures
- Avoid periods of repetitive motion lasting longer than 10 minutes - take frequent short breaks.
- Avoid sitting for long periods (e.g. computer terminal) - take a 10 minute break each hour.
- Use wrist rests for both the keyboard and the mouse when using a computer workstation.
- Use safe lifting and carrying techniques, and get assistance for lifting more than 23 kilos (50 lbs) or 30% of your body weight, whichever is less.
Bargaining units should negotiate contract language that requires the employer to provide protocols for modifying work to prevent injury and for modified return to work programs.
Remember, it is the employer's legal responsibility to:
- inform workers of any hazard in their workplace
- provide information and training in safe work practices
- take every precaution reasonable to prevent injury to workers
- ensure a healthy and safe workplace
- have a written occupational health and safety policy and a program that implements that Policy
The Workers Health and Safety Centre offers an excellent one-day training module, Musculoskeletal Injury Prevention Program (MIPP). Contact the Regional Office near you, or call toll-free 1-888-869-7950, for details.
You can also contact the Health and Safety / Workplace Safety and Insurance Act Committee through OSSTF/FEESO Provincial Office, 60 Mobile Drive, Toronto, Ontario, M4A 2P3 at 416-751-8300 or 1-800-267-7867.