Work-related MSD on the decline in Ontario: IWH study

Massage Therapy Canada staff
October 17, 2014
By Massage Therapy Canada staff
Oct. 17, 2014 – Work-related musculoskeletal disorders are declining in Ontario along with other more traumatic job-related injuries, according to a study by the Institute for Work & Health (IWH). The study was published online this week by the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
Led by IWH president Cameron Mustard, the study tracks the incidence of work-related non-traumatic musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and other work injuries in Ontario between 2004 and 2011 using three independent sources of information. All three sources show a decline in both work-related MSDs and traumatic work injuries over the eight-year period.

Workers’ compensation lost-time claim records show a 48.2-per-cent decline in non-traumatic, work-related MSDs and a 39.4-per-cent decline in traumatic work-related injuries. Emergency department treatment records show a 16.3-per-cent decline in MSDs and a 30.2-per-cent decline in other work injuries. And a Statistics Canada national health survey shows a 40.7-per-cent decline in MSDs and 45.1-per-cent decline in other work injuries.

“The study focuses on MSDs separately from other work injuries because they represent the largest disability burden among working adults in developed economies,” said Mustard. “Moreover, the way workplaces assess and control non-traumatic MSDs is very different than the way they do other more traumatic work injuries.”

MSDs include sprains and strains of the neck, back, shoulders, elbows, wrists, knees and other joints and connective tissue of the musculoskeletal system as a result of awkward, forceful and/or repetitive movements and postures. Over the past 10 years in Ontario, sprains and strains have consistently been the leading type of work injury, representing 40 per cent of all lost-time claims in the province in 2013, according to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board 2013 statistical report.

“What's important about this study is that it drew on three different data sources,” said Mustard. “All three show a steady decline.”

The study cannot say if declining injury rates can be attributed to deliberate efforts by workplaces and health and safety system partners (e.g. governments, health and safety associations) to reduce injury risk. However, “the study does suggest that efforts to prevent MSDs are proving to be as effective as efforts to prevent traumatic work-related injuries,” said Mustard.

“The constant change and renewal in workplace equipment and machinery might have played a role by reducing the amount of lifting, pulling and reaching at work,” Mustard added. “Manual material handling is basically gone in many, many sectors.”

The study, titled “Time trends in musculoskeletal disorders attributed to work exposures in Ontario using three independent data sources, 2004-2011,” was published online Monday by Occupational and Environmental Medicine (doi:10.1136/oemed-2014-102442). It is is available at:

IWH is an independent, not-for-profit research organization that aims to protect and improve the health of working people. Recognized as one of the top five occupational health and safety research centres in the world, the Institute provides practical and relevant findings on the prevention of work injury and disability to policy-makers, workers, employers, clinicians, and health, safety and disability management professionals:

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