Survey finds senior execs uninvolved in MSD prevention programs

A recent survey of Canadian workplaces has shown that nearly 60 per cent of employees do not believe their senior management is “involved in the prevention of accidents and occupational diseases involving musculoskeletal disorders.

Aon Consulting conducted the survey of more than 1,000 of its clients because it saw that rates of MSDs were rising across Canada, said senior consultant Gilles Normandeau.

“We wanted to know if our clients were on the same page in this matter and if it was something that was also a concern for them,” he said.

Respondents identified several MSD risk factors, the most common of which was repetitive movements, with 81 per cent citing it as a concern.

One ergonomics expert, however, noted that other studies have shown that in fact, rates of MSDs are declining across the country. “A lot of these studies, and then policy that follows from it, are based on the wrong assumption being made in the first place, which then skews all of the data,” said Jane Sleeth, managing director with Toronto’s Optimal Performance Consultants, an ergonomics consulting and design firm.

The Aon Consulting survey found that half of the respondents did not feel their senior management was equipped with the means to monitor or assess the prevention of MSD-related accidents and workplace illnesses.

Sleeth said this could be a misleading statistic. She argues a workplace where management does have a system in place to assess MSDs, but doesn’t make it visible, is the same as a workplace that does not have a system in place.

Only 11 per cent of respondents said their workplace has developed specific plans to address MSDs. Of that 11 per cent, however, less than half “dealt specifically with identified risk factors and the training of all current and new employees.”

These results show Canadian workplaces still have work to do to provide a safe environment for their employees.

“Using the methodological limits we have, we can conclude that top management is not well-equipped to follow up on MSDs,” said Linda Cloutier, a prevention consultant with Aon, as translated by Normandeau.

While Sleeth does agree that in many cases management needs to take on a greater role, she also says too much emphasis is being placed on the workplace as the source of MSDs. Instead, she says other factors need to come into play.

These factors include the lifestyle of the employee. In her more than 20 years working in the ergonomics field, she has seen many people who would do nothing to deal with their MSDs except seek the quick fix. These people often do not see their lifestyle as the cause of their pain, and that the workplace is only as a contributing factor. Understanding this distinction is critical to develop programs to help people.

“Let’s make sure the program takes care of the contributing factors,” she said. “That’s the employer’s responsibility. Then give people the right tools and equipment. Let’s also give the employees the tools and knowledge themselves so they can undertake responsibility as well.”

Ultimately, dealing with MSDs is a two-way street, Sleeth said, with both the employer and employee playing a part.

“As long as the workplace has done its due diligence and done what it needs to do, then I think it’s a matter of starting to ask the employee to take some personal responsibility.”

The survey participants included numerous industries, ranging from manufacturing to the public sector and financial services to pharmaceutical and biotech companies.

Aon sent out the surveys from May 17-19, 2010, and gave its clients only two days to respond, said Normandeau. The goal was to receive close to 200 replies, while the actual total was 163, which Normandeau said was higher than the average of 100 replies. He said it would be nice to get more than 500 replies, but it’s not necessary.

“It’s to get a snapshot,” he said. “We don’t leave our respondents a lot of time.”

The surveys were sent to the Human Resources departments and in most cases it was the Occupational Health and Safety department that responded.