Compliance initiative results: Municipalities (ergonomics)
Results of a province-wide initiative focused on musculoskeletal disorder and other ergonomics related hazards in municipalities from April 1, 2018 to March 31, 2020.
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From April 1, 2018 to March 31, 2020, the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development (MLITSD) conducted a health and safety initiative which focused on ergonomics related hazards (musculoskeletal disorder, struck by, and fall hazards) in municipalities. The initiative was organized in two phases.
The first phase, from April 1, 2018 to March 31, 2019, focused on education, outreach and awareness. The MLITSD partnered with the Public Services Health and Safety Association (PSHSA) to raise awareness and to provide training, education and resources to employers. The goal was to help employers comply with requirements about ergonomics related hazards under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and its regulations before the start of inspections.
For the second phase, from April 1, 2019 to March 31, 2020, we conducted inspections in municipalities to check that employers were complying with the OHSA and its regulations. The primary focus of ministry ergonomists was musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) prevention. We also looked at ‘contact with’ and ‘struck by’ hazards due to visibility issues while operating vehicles and mobile equipment, as well as falls due to a worker not being able to maintain balance while working (e.g. from a ladder).
From April 1, 2019 to March 31, 2020, ergonomists:
- conducted 221 field visits with 94 support role activities
- visited 74 municipalities
- issued 134 orders and requirements under the OHSA and its regulations, including 4 stop work orders
The goals of this initiative were to:
- raise awareness of musculoskeletal disorder, struck by and fall hazards
- increase workplace compliance with the law with respect to ergonomics
- prevent injuries and illness that could arise from unsafe work practices
- help foster a health and safety culture
Municipalities have a range of activities that can take place in their workplaces, including:
- office and administrative
- construction and road maintenance
- waste/waste water services
- waste management
- public health
- health care tasks in long-term care homes
MSD hazards are prevalent in many of these activities.
Municipalities have above average lost time injury rates and MSD rates when compared provincially.
- MSDs comprised approximately one-third of all lost time injuries in 2016 in Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) Schedule 1 rate group 845 Local Government Services
- for municipalities in Schedule 2, MSDs comprised approximately 37% of all lost time injuries in 2016
Other hazards that are found in activities completed by municipality workers include:
- contact with and struck by hazards that are due to visibility issues
- falls due to a worker not being able to maintain balance while working (for example, from a ladder).
These hazards are related to ergonomics as ergonomic principles play an important role in preventing these incidents. They are also the focus of ministry ergonomists during proactive inspections and reactive investigations.
Public works activities in municipalities have known MSD hazards and MSDs are common in workers who perform public works activities:
- public works contained a higher percentage of MSDs compared to all of rate group 845 Local Government Services (37% compared to 31%) in 2016
- for municipalities in Schedule 2, 51% of lost time injuries were MSDs for public works and maintenance labourers in 2016
Contact with and struck by hazards due to visibility issues and fall hazards due to workers not being able to maintain their balance while working are also observed in public works activities.
Municipalities have not been a focus of an ergonomics initiatives in the past.
Workplace inspection initiatives
Inspection initiatives are part of our compliance strategy. We announce to the sector, in advance, that we will be doing an initiative. Inspectors' findings may affect the number and level of future inspections of individual workplaces.
Inspectors may also refer employers to health and safety associations for help with compliance and training.
From April 1, 2018 to March 31, 2019, the focus was on education, outreach and awareness. The MLITSD partnered with the Public Services Health and Safety Association (PSHSA) to raise awareness and to provide training, education and resources to employers. The goal was to help employers comply with requirements about ergonomics related hazards under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and its regulations before the start of inspections.
This initiative was different from most ministry initiatives in that it was a collaborative one with municipality involvement. Prior to the start of the initiative, outreach was performed to discuss the plans of the initiative and receive feedback from municipalities. Presentations were made to the PSHSA Government, Municipal, and Community Affairs Advisory Council, the Ontario Municipal Health and Safety Representative Association and the Ontario Municipal Human Resources Association. From these discussions, feedback was received and changes were made to the initiative.
In April 2018, a letter was sent to all municipalities with greater than 50 full time equivalent employees (FTE) to inform them about the initiative and invite them to attend an information webinar. Only municipalities with greater than 50 FTE were chosen in order to focus on municipalities that would have more substantial public works activities and also to ensure that PSHSA would be able to support any and all municipalities that requested it. This resulted in letters being sent to 214 municipalities.
Two information webinars were held in May 2018, with presenters from the ministry and PSHSA providing information about the focus of the initiative and the type of support PSHSA would be able to provide municipalities. Approximately 295 participants took place in the webinars, representing at least 163 municipalities. One webinar was recorded and posted on the PSHSA website and a frequently asked questions document (PDF) was also developed and posted on the PSHSA website.
Presentations were also made to municipalities, health and safety networking groups, and associations during the first year.
For the initiative, PSHSA held a webinar (5 Steps to MSD Prevention) which was recorded and posted on their MSD and Ergonomics landing page. Over 50 municipal participants attended the webinar live. Resources were also added to their landing page to support the initiative. A 5 Steps MSD Prevention Outline, along with 10 corresponding tools, was developed and posted on their MSD and Ergonomics landing page.
PSHSA also engaged with 75 municipalities and facilitated 77 MSD awareness sessions focused on public works within those municipalities.
Focus of the initiative
Starting April 1, 2019, we conducted inspections in municipalities to check that employers were complying with the OHSA and its regulations. Ministry ergonomists performed an administrative review and a physical inspection(s) for each municipality visited. The administrative review focused on the entire municipality, while the physical inspection focused on the public works department. If more than one physical inspection was performed, other areas of the municipality may have been inspected.
Municipalities were chosen to be inspected based on a risk ranking by looking at injury history. 98 municipalities were selected for an inspection.
The primary focus for ministry ergonomists was musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) prevention. Secondary focuses where on contact with and struck by hazards that are due to visibility issues while operating vehicles and mobile equipment and falls due to a worker not being able to maintain balance while working (for example, from a ladder).
Generally during initiatives, individual workplaces are not notified in advance of an inspection. However, due to the collaborative nature of this initiative, the administrative review was a planned inspection with the ministry ergonomist contacting the municipality prior to the inspection. This would ensure that both a worker and a management representative would be available and that the required information and documentation would be present for the inspection.
The administrative review focused on the internal responsibility system (IRS), looking closely at the following topics with an MSD focus:
- policy and program
- information, instruction and supervision
- joint health and safety committee (JHSC) meetings
- workplace inspections
- accident investigations
- injury statistics
During the administrative review, the ergonomist, through a discussion with the municipality, determined where in the public works department the physical inspection would be performed. Public works departments differ from municipality to municipality and therefore we wanted to make sure that the physical inspection took place in an area where there were MSD hazard concerns or where MSDs were occurring.
As with the administrative review, the physical inspection was planned with the municipality to ensure that the right people were there for the inspection. Any additional physical inspections did not require the ministry ergonomist to notify the municipality in advance.
Inspection activity summary
98 municipalities were selected for an inspection based on a risk rating. Due to staffing challenges and the COVID‑19 pandemic, not all municipalities were able to be visited. 74 municipalities were inspected, with 60 having both an administrative review and physical inspection and 14 having only an administrative review.
Plans were made to continue the initiative until September 30, 2020 in order to inspect more municipalities, however, those plans were ultimately abandoned due to the continuing pandemic.
Visits to workplaces
- 221 field visits with 94 support role activities
- 74 municipalities visited
- 60 municipalities had both the administrative review and physical inspection and 14 municipalities had only an administrative review completed
- 134 orders and requirements issued
- 134 orders issued for violations under the OHSA and its regulations, including 4 stop work orders
- 0 requirements issued to provide an inspector with workplace information
- an average of 1.8 orders and requirements issued per municipality visited
- an average of 0.61 orders and requirements issued per visit
Most frequently issued orders
Most of the orders issued under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) were for the following reasons:
- employer failure to provide information, instruction and supervision to a worker to protect the health and safety of the worker [clause 25(2)(a)] — 38 orders or 28.4% of the total orders and requirements issued during the initiative
- employer failure to maintain equipment, materials and protective devices in good condition [clause 25(1)(b)] — 15 orders or 11.2% of the total orders and requirements issued during the initiative
- employer failure to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of the worker [clause 25(2)(h)] — 9 orders or 6.7% of the total orders and requirements issued during the initiative
The most frequently issued orders under the regulations were for employers’ failure to:
- ensure that materials, articles or things are transported, placed or stored so they do not tip, collapse or fall and can be removed or withdrawn without endangering the safety of any worker [Reg. 851, s. 45(b)] — 17 orders or 12.7% of the total orders and requirements issued during the initiative
- ensure that a portable ladder is free from broken or loose members or other faults [Reg. 851, s. 73(a)] — 8 orders or 6.0% of the total orders and requirements issued during the initiative
- ensure that a floor or other surface used by any worker is kept free of obstructions, hazards and accumulations of refuse, snow or ice and not have a finish or protective material used on it that is likely to make the surface slippery [Reg. 851, s. 11] — 7 orders or 5.2% of the total orders and requirements issued during the initiative
- ensure that materials, articles or things that are required to be lifted, carried or moved are done so in a manner that does not endanger the safety of any worker [Reg. 851, s. 45(a)] — 4 orders or 3.0% of the total orders and requirements issued during the initiative
After the administrative review and physical inspection were completed and the ergonomist had finalized the inspection case with the municipality, a survey was sent to a management and worker representative (where an email address was not obtained for a worker representative, the management representative was asked to forward the survey link to a worker representative) of the joint health and safety committee to further evaluate the initiative. A survey link was sent out to approximately 43 municipalities.
We received 52 survey responses (47 complete and 5 partial) from 29 worker representatives and 23 management representatives. The results showed that:
- for those who used PSHSA (14 responses):
- their messaging was consistent with the ministry’s messaging and enforcement application (14 out of 14 responses)
- the information/consultation from a PSHSA consultant was useful in preparing for the ministry inspection (13 out of 14 responses)
- understanding of how ergonomics is enforced using the OHSA and its regulations increased as a result of the initiative (municipalities who rated very good or excellent rose from 29% to 78.5%)
- 45% of respondents indicated they did not have an MSD prevention program prior to the start of the initiative
- of these respondents, 39% now have a program and the other 61% are in the process of developing one
- of the respondents who indicated they had an MSD prevention program prior to the start of the initiative, 100% indicated they improved upon their program as a result of the initiative
- the three most common resources used to prepare for the ministry inspection were:
- internal, existing resources
- information from peers
- ministry website and online resources or contacted ministry personnel
- 48% of respondents watched the joint ministry and PSHSA webinar
- 79% found the webinar helpful; 21% did not
- 96% of respondents felt prepared for the inspection
- 98% understood the inspection process
- 56% received orders
- 100% who received orders understood what needed to be done to comply with the orders
- 100% of respondents found this initiative to be beneficial to their municipality
As a result of the collaborative nature of this initiative in which consultations occurred with municipalities prior to the start of the initiative and a year being provided for outreach, education and awareness, many municipalities actively worked to address and improve their MSD prevention practices. This was observed by municipalities:
- creating or updating MSD programs and policies
- implementing training on MSDs
- discussing MSD hazards during joint health and safety committee (JHSC) meetings
- including looking for MSD hazards during workplace inspections
- identifying steps to prevent a recurrence when a worker has an MSD and is disabled from performing their usual work
- tracking MSDs to better understand what work activities are causing these injuries
However, this was not the case for all municipalities. Some municipalities still did not have MSD prevention practices, or they did not adequately look for and prevent MSD hazards in the activities their workers perform.
It was also observed that for some municipalities that had a written MSD prevention program and policy, the existence of the program or policy did not necessarily correspond to an understanding of MSD hazards at the supervisor and worker level, especially for public works departments. There needs to be continued efforts on ensuring that workers and their supervisors adequately understand MSD hazards so that they can be identified and controlled where the work is taking place.
Other observations from this initiative indicate that:
- workers continue to be exposed to
- MSD hazards when performing work, especially where manual materials handling is being performed
- the hazard of materials tipping, collapsing or falling or not being able to be removed without endangering the safety of any worker
- struck by hazards when vehicles or mobile equipment are present
- ladders need to be properly maintained and inspected before they are used
Conclusion and next steps
The results of this initiative indicate that having a focused, collaborative initiative with a specific sector can result in positive actions that help to eliminate or control MSD hazards. The feedback that was received in the survey and the interactions during the inspections showed that many municipalities developed or improved upon MSD prevention programs as a direct result of the initiative. This was encouraging to see.
However, work still needs to be done as MSD hazards and other ergonomics related hazards continue to exist in municipalities. This should serve as a reminder to all parties in municipalities, and other workplaces where these hazards exist, to review and improve upon the steps they take to prevent MSD hazards and other ergonomics related hazards and their understanding of duties and responsibilities under the OHSA.
We will continue to raise awareness of these hazards during inspections and encourage workplaces to set up a strong internal responsibility system (IRS) and hazard controls.
All workplace parties — employers, supervisors, workers, joint health and safety committees and health and safety representatives — must continue to work together to identify and control MSD hazards and other ergonomics related hazards. Better awareness of any hazard can bring change. Workplaces must continue to be diligent and not allow complacency to creep into their daily routines. MSD hazards and other ergonomics related hazards can be prevented by raising awareness, training, providing appropriate equipment and taking proper precautions.
Help for employers
Please contact our health and safety partners for more information.
- footnote Back to paragraph Field visits in a support role are activities where a professional services staff (e.g., hygienist, ergonomist, engineer, etc.), or another inspector accompanies an inspector on a field visit to provide professional support or expertise.