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During the COIVD-19 pandemic many workers are experiencing changes to the way they work. Some are working from home, while others continue to report to their job site. For these workers, modifications to processes, heavier workloads, and a different work pace are common. Repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) are a risk in any workplace and the introduction of new processes and equipment in response to COVID-19 may create additional conditions that could increase the risk.
What is a repetitive strain injury?
Also known as musculoskeletal disorders or MSDs, repetitive strain injuries are painful disorders that affect the tendons, muscles, nerves and joints in your neck, upper and lower back, chest, shoulders, arms and hands. These disorders are caused by the continued repetition of movements at work, such as gripping, bending, twisting and reaching.
Combine those movements with awkward postures and fixed body positions, excessive force concentrated on small parts of the body, and vibrations, and injuries can result. A fast pace of work with insufficient breaks or recovery time, such as when the work is done in a hurried manner or more weight is carried at one time to help speed up the work, can also place strain on the body. Even psychosocial factors such as stress can also play a contributing role. Stress can rise when the worker feels they need to skip breaks or work longer hours to meet job demands, which results in less time away from work for the body to recover. A common stress reaction is to tense muscles, particularly in the upper body and shoulders, which contributes further to these injuries.
Repetitive strain injuries take time to develop so watch for the signs. A painful wrist, joint stiffness in the shoulder, muscle tightness in the neck, or finger numbness are possible symptoms of injury. Symptoms usually develop gradually and, without treatment, the condition may become irreversible.
This past year, the response to pandemic guidance and requirements has meant the introduction of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as fitted gloves and masks for workers. This PPE can affect the way workers grip, sense touch, talk, and move about. Proper fit, design, and training can help workers use this safety equipment safely and effectively and reduce the risk of injury.
Eliminate the hazard
For employers, eliminating hazards at the source is the most effective solution. Focus on removing repetitive patterns of work through job design changes. If possible, automate tasks with technology and mechanization. Rotating jobs and tasks and distributing work evenly between team workers can also help. Many workers will physically benefit from an increase in the variety of tasks they perform on the job because they use different muscle groups. New and different tasks could include performing required cleaning and disinfecting as part of COVID-19 prevention, for example.
While it’s true that eliminating repetitive patterns isn’t always possible, employers can use other prevention strategies. Make ergonomic adjustments that fit a workstation to the worker. Many workplaces have new safety barriers in place due to COVID-19. Protect workers by providing tools and assistive devices that decrease the force required and avoid awkward positions when working in a potentially restrictive environment. Modify and improve work practices to include training, rest periods, and giving workers more control over their work where possible to reduce their stress.
Developing a prevention program, which includes worker education on the signs and symptoms of these injuries, is essential. Although injury progression varies, the first feeling of pain is a signal that the muscles and tendons should rest and recover. Many workers have continued to work at their jobs during the pandemic, but they may be working at a faster pace, under changing conditions, or with increased stress. Any new procedures are additional workplace factors that should be considered when recognizing and preventing repetitive injuries. Remember to encourage your workers to report the first feelings of pain. Many cases can be resolved once the source of the worker's pain is eliminated.
Each year, International RSI Awareness Day takes place on the last day in February to help raise awareness about RSIs and the need for preventative action. This year RSI Awareness Day is Sunday, February 28.
Tips & Tools
Let’s face it. Wearing a protective non-medical mask is the new norm for many workers, and for good reason. They help to prevent the spread of infectious respiratory droplets that lead to COVID-19. But as temperatures dip during the winter, seasonal inconveniences like rain and snow, runny noses, and wet faces are not only annoying, but can also reduce your mask’s effectiveness.
Non-medical masks help limit the spread of droplets and spit when you sneeze or cough. Wearing them is recommended when you cannot consistently keep two metres away from others, especially in crowded settings.
Here are some tips and considerations to help you wear your mask effectively and safely this winter.
Some additional non-medical masks tips:
Wearing a mask alone will not prevent the spread of COVID-19. Remember to also maintain physical distancing, wash your hands frequently, and follow your local public health guidelines.
This month’s new podcast features tips on how to spot workplace harassment and violence when it happens. Learn more about recognition, reporting, and prevention.
While the signs of workplace harassment and violence aren’t always as clear as we need them to be, there are several preventative and supportive steps that a workplace can take to ensure that workers know how to recognize and report incidents if they happen.
The podcast runs 10:18 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
Encore Podcast: Tips to Help Raise the Awareness in RSI Day
International Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) Awareness Day is February 28th. As the only non-repetitive day of the year, it’s the ideal date to devote to raising awareness of repetitive strain injuries. Listen for tips to help identify the risk factors and avoid the patterns that can lead to these injuries.
The podcast runs 3:26. Listen to the podcast now.
CCOHS produces free monthly podcasts on a wide variety of topics designed to keep you current with information, tips, and insights into the health, safety, and well-being of working Canadians. You can download the audio segment to your computer or MP3 player and listen to it at your own convenience... or on the go!
When it comes to work place harassment and violence, employees, managers, committee members, and employers all have important roles to play. To support each of these groups in federally regulated work places as they work towards creating work environments that are free from harassment and violence, CCOHS has developed three online courses that explain their specific responsibilities and duties along with preventative measures.
Each course is intended for a specific audience (noted below) and no prerequisite is needed.
Harassment and Violence Prevention for Employees
By presenting relevant and illustrative examples, this course helps employees in federally regulated work places understand the definition of work place harassment and violence, and ways to minimize and prevent it. It provides an overview of the uncertainty, fear and stigma around witnessing or experiencing such incidents, and reviews reporting and supportive measures. This course also outlines the legislation that applies to employers regulated by the Canada Labour Code, Part II.
Harassment and Violence Prevention for Managers and Committees/Representatives
Intended for supervisors, managers and committee members, this course gives you a deeper understanding of the roles and legal responsibilities of the employer. Learn the steps involved in implementing a properly developed work place harassment and violence prevention program in compliance with the Canada Labour Code, Part II, and understand the duties required of employer representatives, the power and role of the committee (right of participation), and legislative aspects.
This course, intended for designated recipients and employers in federally regulated work places, discusses the duties of the employer in relation to work place harassment and violence. This includes policy development, investigation techniques, processes, program evaluation and the role of the designated recipient. This course prepares you in preventing and responding to harassment and violence in your work place, and gives you guidance as you carry out your responsibilities in accordance with the Canada Labour Code, Part II including the Work Place Harassment and Violence Prevention Regulations.
All workers have the right to a safe workplace that is free of harassment and violence, and every worker is within their right to report any incident where they have been or think they may have been harassed, or have witnessed a co-worker being harassed. It is the employer’s responsibility to investigate, record, and report all such incidents that are known to them.
Share this infographic on workplace harassment and violence to highlight worker rights, employer responsibilities, and examples of harassment and violence, including those of a sexual nature. This infographic also provides tips on committing to and creating a workplace that is free of harassment and violence.
Occupational health and safety laws are always evolving. This month, we highlight amendments that came into effect January 1, 2021. These include major amendments to the Canada Labour Code (Part II) relating to work place harassment and violence prevention, plus amendments to provincial legislation.
Major amendments to the Canada Labour Code (Part II) relating to work place harassment and violence prevention came into effect January 1, 2021. Changes made by S.C. 2018, c. 22 include: broadening the scope of the purpose of Part II of the Code; expanding the application of Part II of the Code in s. 123 to cover ministerial staff and their employer; adding the following definition for harassment and violence: “harassment and violence means any action, conduct or comment, including of a sexual nature, that can reasonably be expected to cause offence, humiliation or other physical or psychological injury or illness to an employee, including any prescribed action, conduct or comment”; amending s. 125 Specific Duties of Employers to include duties related to workplace harassment and violence as well as broadening the scope of those duties related to access to information; amending s. 127.1 to broaden the scope of the internal complaint resolution process; amending various provisions dealing with workplace health and safety committees, policy health and safety committees, and H&S representatives, in order to limit the instances where an employer may be exempt from establishing a committee and to set out privacy requirements in relation to workplace harassment and violence; and, requiring that the Minister prepare and publish an annual report containing statistical data on harassment and violence in work places.
An amendment repealing Division XV.1 Sexual Harassment of the Canada Labour Code (Part III) also came into force January 1, 2021. (S.C. 2018, c. 22, s. 16)
The new federal Work Place Harassment and Violence Prevention Regulations (SOR/2020-130) came into force January 1, 2021. They outline the essential elements of a workplace harassment and violence prevention policy and procedures that must be in place to respond to incidents of harassment and violence if they do occur. Includes provisions for: timeframes for resolution; confidentiality of all parties; protection from third parties; qualifications of a competent person to investigate; employer obligations to implement corrective measures; role of the workplace committee; and, support for employees who have experienced harassment and violence. These regulations also make consequential amendments to the following six federal OHS regulations, that also came into force January 1, 2021: Canada Labour Standards Regulations; Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (amends Part 15 Hazardous Occurrence Investigation, Recording and Reporting); On Board Trains Occupational Health and Safety Regulations; Oil and Gas Occupational Safety and Health Regulations; Coal Mining Occupational Health and Safety Regulations; Maritime Occupational Health and Safety Regulations; and, Aviation Occupational Health and Safety Regulations.
Amendments are applied to the Canada Labour Standards Regulations. SOR/2020-166, s. 1 repeals Section 33.1 Leave Related to COVID-19. SOR/2020-226, s. 1 adds Section 33.01 Entitlement to Medical Leave Without Certificate. SOR/2020-242, s. 1 repeals and replaces subsection 30(1.1)(a) and (b), and 30(1.2)(a) and (b).
Affecting British Columbia’s Workers’ Compensation Act, S.B.C. 2020, c. 20, ss. 17-18 came into force January 1, 2021 and amends Section 196 Permanent partial disability: exception to general rules; and, adds subsection 201(3) to Section 201 Payment period for worker disability compensation.
Major amendments to Newfoundland’s Occupational Health and Safety First Aid Regulations came into force January 1, 2021. N.L.R. 68/20 amends Section 2 by adding definitions for CSA, Type 1: Personal first aid kit, and Type 3: Intermediate first aid kit; repeals and replaces subsection 4(1) relating to employer’s duties; repeals and replaces subsection 5(3); repeals and replaces Section 8 Conveyance; repeals Sections 16, 17 and 18; repeals and replaces Section 19 Type 1 personal first aid kit; repeals and replaces Section 20 Existing first aid kits, “Existing first aid kits and their associated contents shall be presumed to comply with these regulations until January 1, 2022.”; and, repeals and replaces Schedules A, B, C, D and E.
Nova Scotia’s Firefighters' Compensation Regulations are amended by removing “colon cancer” in the sixth row of the table and substituting “colorectal cancer (formerly known as colon cancer)” in Section 2. (N.S. Reg. 166/2020)
Nova Scotia’s Workers' Compensation General Regulations are amended by N.S. Reg. 167/2020 which amends clause 9(1)(c) by adding “, except volunteer firefighters to whom Part I of the Act applies” immediately after “fire department”; and, amends Section 21 by striking out “admitted to the operation of the Act pursuant to Section 5 of the Act” and substituting “to whom Part I of the Act applies”.
Northwest Territories’ Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (Safety Act) are amended by R-012-2020, which came into force January 1, 2021, amending Part 5 (First Aid) and replacing several schedules. Employers have a transition period of one year, until January 1, 2022, to update first aid kits.
Quebec has amended its environmental legislation. As of Dec. 31, 2020, new regulations, including the Regulation respecting the regulatory scheme applying to activities on the basis of their environmental impact will be in effect, along with amendments to several regulations under the Environment Quality Act. These changes are to modernize the environmental authorization process.
For more information regarding recent regulatory changes CCOHS offers a paid subscription service, Canadian enviroOSH Legislation plus Standards, that provides a collection of all the health, safety and environmental legislation you need in one location.
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
© 2021, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
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