Written by WorkSafeBC
When thinking about health and safety in food and beverage processing, it can be easy to overlook or underestimate the effect of musculoskeletal injuries (MSIs). However, injuries due to overexertion and repetitive motion make up 35 percent of injuries within the food and beverage processing industry, with an average of 60 days of work time lost as a result.
MSIs — a sprain, strain, or inflammation, or disorder of the muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, nerves, blood vessels, or related soft tissues — can seem insignificant, but the effects on workers, employers, and the workplace should not be underestimated.
Fortunately, there are steps that both workers and employers can take to help reduce injury rates and make the workplace safer and healthier for everyone.
How do MSIs happen?
While the specific causes of MSIs can vary depending on the industry, they are usually caused by one or more of the following risk factors:
- Forceful exertions — lifting or moving heavy loads over an extended period
- Repetitive motion — repeating the same motion over an extended period
- Awkward postures — performing awkward movements, such as reaching, bending, or twisting
- Local contact stress — skin coming into contact with a hard or sharp object, injuring nerves and tissues beneath it
- Aspects of the workplace – floor surfaces, such as grade, surface texture, and slip resistance
- Environmental conditions – cold temperatures, causing forceful exertions and increased gripping forces.
When considering the risk factors of MSIs, it’s also important to note the duration (how long the worker is exposed to the risk factor) and the magnitude (how much of the risk factor the worker experiences).
Understanding employer responsibilities
Identifying the risk factors, implementing prevention strategies, and eliminating or reducing the causes of MSIs can all go a long way in reducing workplace injuries. Effectively managing risk in your workplace involves four steps:
1. Understand the risks — identify the hazards (anything that could cause harm) and assess the risk these hazards pose to workers.
2. Control the risks — the greatest risk should be addressed first. Apply the hierarchy of controls: Start by trying to eliminate the risk or substitute the process. If that is not possible, apply engineering controls, using equipment or other means to prevent workers from being exposed to the hazard. The next level is administrative controls, using safe work procedures to enable workers to perform the work safely. The final level of control is personal protective equipment (PPE), by itself or in combination with another type of control.
3. Communicate — make sure all affected workers and supervisors know what controls are in place and how to use them.
4. Monitor and update — assess how your control measures are working and make improvements if needed.
Preventing incidents is a shared responsibility
Employers need to consult with workers and with their joint health and safety committee (or worker health and safety representative) when identifying risk factors and potential controls. Workers are in a great position to help in this process as they often have the best insights into the demands of the job. Working together, employers and workers can complete risk assessments and address health and safety concerns to help reduce the potential for workplace incidents.