Workers Health & Safety Centre

RSI Awareness Day 2017 – Stopping the pain, doubling down on prevention

RSI Awareness Day 2017 – Stopping the pain, doubling down on prevention
Across Ontario workers attended annual RSI Awareness Day events and demanded action to tackle one of the greatest sources of work-related injury.

For years, work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), also known as repetitive strain injuries (RSIs), continue to account for more than 40 per cent of lost-time injuries (LTIs) allowed by Ontario’s Workplace Safety & Insurance Board (WSIB) – the single largest class of compensation claim. Many more affected workers suffer in silence as their claims are denied or never reported.

Need for Ergonomics Regulation

At a Toronto event sponsored by Injured Workers’ Consultants, Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), Unifor and United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW), health and safety advocates and injured workers gathered for the 18th annual RSI Awareness day. While action is needed on several fronts, all agreed the priority has to be a stand-alone ergonomics regulation.

Ontario Federation of Labour president, Chris Buckley, reaffirmed support for an ergonomics regulation. No stranger to RSIs, Buckley shared how he had to run his fingers under hot water for 15 minutes before a shift to open them up. The pain that was unbearable though wasn’t his own but his daughter’s. At age 28, she suffered rotator cuff injuries to both shoulders. Only after others were injured on the same job did the employer install a $2,000 lifting device.    

With the growth of precarious jobs, Buckley says the need to protect workers has never been more urgent: “We need to implement regulations now to ensure the next generation of workers do not start their working lives marred by injury.”

Terri Aversa, OPSEU health and safety officer, reinforced this further saying, “Without a regulation, Ontario health and safety inspectors have few legal provisions upon which to write orders for MSD prevention.” With a regulation, inspectors would need additional training in its application, added Aversa.

Currently, the province is developing a new MSD Prevention Guideline, a long overdue revision to the original guideline produced 10 years ago. This collaborative project is led by researchers at the Centre of Research Expertise for the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders (CRE-MSD) at the University of Waterloo. The new guideline is expected to be released in 2018.

Awareness campaigns and lobbying efforts

RSIs can slowly develop but their impact can last a lifetime, so it’s important to recognize and report symptoms early before pain and injury become permanent.

With this in mind, the United Food & Commercial Workers Canada Locals 175 & 633 launched their Altered Lives Project in 2016. The campaign shares stories of members who suffer from a devastating work-related injury. UFCW 175 & 633 health and safety representative Mary Shaw (pictured above at Toronto RSI Day event) explained how a tabletop display of the project, now installed at the local’s head office, and a dedicated web page aim to raise awareness about prevention and the need to support those already injured.

Unifor national health and safety representative, Vinay Sharma, shared how Local 222 representatives in Oshawa handed out RSI flyers at plant gates to members while encouraging them to report injuries and hazards. 

OPSEU has taken concerns directly to elected officials and travelled with MPPs to northern Ontario jails to see working conditions firsthand. OPSEU’s Terri Aversa noted, “Sometimes involving elected officials can move an employer to take action faster than the grievance/arbitration process.”

Research – making the case, reflecting the workforce

At the Toronto event Dr. Peter Smith, senior scientist at the Institute for Work & Health, discussed how, and if, sex and gender are incorporated into work and health research. Data suggests sex and gender impacts the type of work you perform, your risk of injury and how you are treated and compensated afterward. Smith pointed out that women are more likely to suffer non-acute injuries such as RSI. When they do suffer a work-related injury, women tend to be away from work longer and are more likely than men to be prescribed a course of pain management rather than exercise or surgery. Women are also less likely to report and receive compensation for their work-related injuries.

Author and journalist Penney Kome has written extensively about RSIs as a major source of disablement and pain. Joining the discussion from Calgary, she reported how workers with RSIs suffer chronic pain which is misunderstood and often over-treated with opioids. She encouraged those gathered to “fight for job descriptions that don’t include pain.”

OPSEU’s Liquor Board Employees Division are attempting to do just that. RSI is a major source of injury for their members, 70 per cent of whom are casual employees. Working with researchers from CRE-MSD they’re redesigning a survey tool to help workplace representatives and workers identify MSD risk factors. They hope the survey results will strengthen their case for much needed ergonomic interventions. Says researcher Niki Carlan, “Along with resources, it’s important for workers to negotiate access to workplace data. This is crucial for conducting research, but more importantly for making links between illness and injury and workplace exposures.”  

Again this year, the Workers Health & Safety Centre (WHSC) supported RSI Awareness Day events across the province by offering specially-priced ergonomics programs. Through WHSC training programs workers gain the knowledge and tools needed to help identify the working conditions and hazards responsible for musculoskeletal pain and MSDs. Just as important, these programs provide essential insight into prevention solutions. Workplaces in all sectors of the Ontario economy continue to turn to WHSC for this effective training.

Want to know more about WHSC Ergonomics Training and other helpful Ergonomics Resources or how the WHSC can help with all of your occupational health and safety training needs?
Call:     1-888-869-7950 and ask to speak to a training services representative

Other related resources:
Altered Lives Project - UFCW Locals 175 & 633
Injured Workers Justice Bike Ride
CRE-MSD Survey of Physical Loads At Work (to be completed by worker representatives)
CRE-MSD Survey of Physical Loads At Work (to be completed by workers)
OHCOW RSI PLUS Awareness Day 2017
Editor’s Note: Some of you may remember the publication aptly titled At the Source as WHSC’s flagship magazine for years. This first electronic publication represents the rebirth of At the Source. In the weeks and months to come we will share feature stories of labour activists’ efforts to help create safer, healthier work for their fellow members and all workers. In the doing, we hope to inspire greater efforts still, for the job of preventing worker disability, disease and death, as ever, will take the collective strength of all workers and their representatives.