Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD) & Ergonomics

What is a Musculoskeletal Disorder?


Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD) are injuries and disorders of the musculoskeletal system. Other terms used to describe MSDs include Repetitive Strain Injury, Musculoskeletal Injury, Cumulative Trauma Disorder, Occupational Overuse Syndrome, or Strain or Sprain. They may be caused or aggravated by various hazards or risk factors in the workplace such as high force, awkward/static postures, and repetitive motions. The musculoskeletal system includes: muscles, tendons and tendon sheathes, nerves, bursa, blood vessels, joints/spinal discs, and ligaments.


Musculoskeletal Disorders are one of the most common injuries experienced by Ontario workers. They do not include musculoskeletal injuries or disorders that are the direct result of a fall, struck by or against, caught in or on, vehicle collision, violence, etc.


What is Ergonomics?


Ergonomics is the science of fitting the job to the worker and has proven important in preventing the types of musculoskeletal injuries that contribute to increasing workplace related disability claims.


Once a person is injured, all their daily activities may be disrupted. Ergonomic implementation works to prevent injuries rather than treat them. A complete ergonomics program includes education about risk factors, causes of injuries, and encourages good habits in posture, body mechanics and exercise at work, home and leisure.


Ergonomics, considered the solution to MSD prevention, examines the interaction between a worker and the elements of their work environment in an attempt to fit a job or work activity to a worker or population of workers. Used in combination with MSD prevention initiatives, Ergonomics can assist the workplace to recognize, assess, and control MSD hazards and related concerns in the workplace.

Preventing Musculoskeletal Disorders


The goal of MSD prevention is to minimize or eliminate MSD hazards in the workplace to reduce the number and likelihood of workers being injured or experiencing pain on the job. Adopting a stepwise approach to recognize, assess, control, and evaluate MSD hazards can assist in standardizing the approach to MSD prevention. This approach can be broken down into the following steps:


  •    Ensure senior management commitment and employee involvement
  •    Program needs assessment
  •    Program development
  •    Program implementation
  •    Program evaluation and continual improvement


Such an approach acknowledges these various practices, which together, create a unique structure to manage MSD hazards and related issues that address the unique needs of each organization. The key to successful health and safety hazard management is not only identifying and controlling risks in the workplace but also evaluating and continually improving the system itself.


The Internal Responsibility System (IRS) encourages the participation of all workplace parties in occupational health and safety. This notion of participation is reinforced through the legislated duties outlined for all workplace parties in the OHSA, meaning health and safety is a shared responsibility.


All workplace parties can do their part to meet their legal duties - participation, collaboration and cooperation of all workplace parties are key factors to a successful prevention effort.


Here are some tools to help you along the way:


Ontario MSD Prevention Guideline


The Centre of Research Expertise for the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders (CRE-MSD) has led a collaborative process to develop a new Ontario MSD Prevention Guideline, updating the older 2007 version and supporting the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development’s priorities in the Strategic Framework and Small Businesses.


Pains and strains, repetitive strain injuries (RSI), low back pain, shoulder pain, or carpal tunnel syndrome, collectively known as Musculoskeletal Disorders or MSD, represent one of the leading causes of disability and pain in workers and the largest source of employers’ compensation claims.  This new Guideline will assist organizations in the prevention of MSD through the use of its content and resources.

work shouldnt hurt

The Guideline has been designed for all companies and workers to address the prevention of MSD, which includes three versions based on an organization’s size and available resources:


Quick Start Guideline: General


Tailored to organizations that:

  • Are small or very small (also called “micro” businesses)
  • May have a Health and Safety Representative
  • May not have much knowledge and few resources in Health and Safety
  • May be unfamiliar with MSD and their prevention

Basic Guideline


Tailored to organizations that:

  • Have a person or persons with knowledge, experience, and responsibility for Health and Safety
  • Have a Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC)
  • Have policies and procedures for health and safety addressing most hazards but want to improve their MSD prevention activities

Comprehensive Guideline


Tailored to organizations that:

  • Have multiple persons and/or a Department with special knowledge, experience, and responsibility for Health and Safety
  • Have a formal management framework that is used to oversee the organization's activities
  • Have a formal or informal management system for Health and Safety, such as ISO 45001 or CSA Z1000
  • Have comprehensive policies and procedures for health and safety that address most hazards but want to improve their MSD prevention activities.

Office work shouldn't hurt! Small changes in the office can make a big difference in preventing the development of MSD. The Office Quick Start Guideline contains quick workplace fixes to help keep workers free of MSD while performing office work. It provides basic information and encourages businesses to get started on preventing MSD during office work and helps workers configure their workstations. This Quick Start Guideline is comprised of fact sheets and posters that can be downloaded and distributed freely.


The website content includes an introductory video and fact sheet, newly developed hazard identification and control approaches, graphics, and downloadable templates and documents that can be found in the Resource Library.

Five Steps to Building your Workplace Client Handling Program

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MSD Resources

Training & Related Services

Ergonomic Services
PSHSA offers a wide range of ergonomic services designed to meet your workplace health and safety needs.
Office Ergonomics How to Conduct an Assessment
This day long course is designed to provide background learning on musculoskeletal disorders that are linked to office/computer work.
A Participatory Approach to MSD Prevention
With knowledge and a participatory approach, your organization can make changes to the work environment and prevent these injuries.

Articles & Blog Posts

Posture Check! Ergonomics Matter 365 Days A Year
One in every ten Canadian adults have had a repetitive strain injury (RSI) serious enough to limit normal activities. Is this happening to you?
Tips for Setting Up Your Home Office
Since many organizations have made the move to becoming a virtual organization, we wanted to share a few ergonomic tips.
The Potential for MSD in Childcare Workers
As a childcare worker, we are naturally concerned over the safety of the children, but often times, we overlook our own safety.
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