Is your job causing you pain?

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Repetitive Strain Injury Awareness Day an important reminder to listen to your body

Worker stretching back

Back pain? Numbness in your hands? Sore shoulder? You’re not alone. One in every 10 Canadian adults had a repetitive strain injury (RSI) serious enough to limit normal activities, according to Statistics Canada. The study found approximately 2.3 million Canadians age 20 and up reported having an RSI in the previous year, and the numbers are growing. 

February 28th marks international RSI Awareness Day, and Workplace Safety North (WSN) encourages all workers and employers to mark the occasion by raising awareness and encouraging discussion in the workplace. Every year, Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) hosts a free annual international RSI Awareness Day webinar for participants from around the globe.

“If there’s one message I can get across to workers, it is: ‘You do not have to work in pain,’” says Dan Suess, WSN Health and Safety Specialist. “Some people think working in pain is normal – and maybe the pain isn’t from work, but let’s assess it – that’s what we need to do.” 

What exactly are workplace pains and strains?

Worker stretching leg

Workplace pains and strains that affect muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves have been given many names: musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), repetitive strain injury, cumulative trauma disorder and repetitive motion injury. 

Usually the result of repetitive, forceful or awkward movements on joints, ligaments and other soft tissues, a worker can begin to experience symptoms like discomfort, pain, numbness, tingling, weakness and restricted movements. At the first sign, you’re advised to inform your supervisor immediately. 

While not a medical diagnosis; “MSD” is an umbrella term for a group of injuries, including back pain (low back strain, etc.), muscle strain, tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, rotator cuff syndrome, tennis or golfer’s elbow, and shoulder pain.

“Let’s face it, musculoskeletal disorders are the main cause of workplace injury across the province in every sector – accounting for about 43 per cent of all lost-time claims,” says Suess. “One of the keys to preventing these injuries is extremely simple: raise people’s awareness levels. We urge everyone to learn about ways to reduce the risk of repetitive strain and other musculoskeletal disorders.”

Simple steps to help prevent repetitive strain in the workplace

  • Incorporate regular rest and stretch breaks, and change your posture many times throughout the day – just get up and move
  • Vary or rotate job tasks to change positions and to avoid overuse of any one body part.
  • Minimize awkward postures by adjusting work heights, decreasing reaching distances and organizing work stations.
  • Modify the work area and equipment to avoid pressing against hard or sharp surfaces.
  • Limit the necessity of high exertion by using appropriate tools such as carts or hoists.
  • Reduce the size of loads and carrying distances.
  • Report pains and strains to your supervisor before pain becomes severe.
  • Call your regional health and safety specialist or a qualified ergonomic and health specialist to help you quickly identify and assess risks, and put controls in place before injuries occur.
  • Promote a healthy workplace. By building strength, flexibility, and a strong core, workers are more resilient in terms of overall physical health.

“To this day, manual material handling is still a huge problem,” says Suess. “No matter what the industry, people are still picking up heavy things from floor level. This is still happening! There are many control measures available. As a strategy, we need to focus on manual material handing in every sector – we have to just keep reminding people it’s extremely high risk to the lower back. Again it’s building awareness; it’s employer due diligence.”

Ministry of Labour MSD Facts

MSDs account for:

  • 43% of all lost-time claims
  • 43% of all lost-time claim costs
  • 46% of all lost-time days

MSD Warning Signs

  • Workers making their own modifications to tools or workstations.
  • Workers wearing splints or supports.
  • Workers massaging muscles or joints or shaking their limbs.
  • Workers commenting about or reporting pain, discomfort, or fatigue.
  • Workers avoiding a certain task or job because it hurts them.

For more information on safety matters and preventing injury in the workplace, please visit the online resources listed below

Free Resources

MSDs - Erase the Hazard includes video, poster, safety talk, and prevention guide


WSN Collection of MSD Prevention Tools includes employee survey, policy samples, posters, assessment tools, and more.