December 2020 Newsletter:

Moving Forward or Backwards?


Many of us may have hoped that with rolling into 2021 that the struggles of 2020 would be slowly moving behind us, or we’d be established and settled into a new system or way of dealing with work during these difficult times. However, with more areas heading back into lockdown and safety guidelines for all workplaces increasing, many are still challenged with finding methods to address employee safety and ergonomics.

Injuries have not reduced; in fact, many companies have found musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) have increased. In the recently released Letter of Instruction to Businesses and Organizations for Additional Public Health Measures – November 26, 2020 one of the fourteen points Medical Officer of Health, Charles Gardner, advised was to “Ensure that all unplanned absences by workers are investigated by the Compliance Officer for any risk of COVID-19 exposure…”. Adding increased investigation to any and all workplace absences increases workloads and reduces organizational efficiencies. As such, a goal to ensure that incidents and workplace absences are decreased becomes that much more important.

So what can we do? In a retrospective review of client activity during the 2020 pandemic, two trends have been evident: training and program development.


Program Development

Definitely a more recent trend amongst clients, the request for a multi-dimensional injury prevention service package is on the rise. This makes perfect sense, since although many are moving along as per normal there is an acknowledgement that things aren’t normal and, as such, the silver-lining is that workforces are adjusted to change. Now is a good time to review old practices to see if they can be improved on or implement a new program or program element. Requests for MSD reduction systems and improvement tools such as checklists, auditing systems, policy and procedures and hazard analyses are common starting points.


Training

Since March there has been an increase of ergonomic training as employees were sent to work from home. Organizations scrambled to provide safe work practices for at home workstations (like PROergonomics’ @Home Office Ergonomics Webinar). As staff started returning back to work in June the request for “refresher” training became the trend. Looking at work habits, workstation set-up and manual material handling practices were important as organizations felt like they were working with a reset moment.


Combining both of these elements is an excellent strategy to reducing MSDs in the workplace. Ergonomic best practices need to be part of an ongoing reminder system that relies on standardized assessment and auditing and is structured to be repeated and easily communicated. Engineering controls can help minimize a lot of poor ergonomic concerns, but without a program and training to support them they often fall flat when it comes to reducing injuries.

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