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Stretching - It's Not Just for Athletes!

  • Do you have employees whose job tasks involve repetitive movements, forceful efforts, fixed or awkward postures?
  • Did you know that stretching can help relax tense muscles, relieve stress and improve blood circulation?
  • Are you aware of the importance of stretching and ergonomics in the prevention of workplace injury?

Stretching is not just for athletes or people going to “physio”. Standing or sitting at your workstation or on the job for prolonged periods of time can cause muscle tension, stiffness and strain. Stretching reduces muscle stiffness, tension and stress by increasing blood flow which brings oxygen and nutrients to the body’s tissues.

Quick Fact:

Canada’s Physical Activity Guide recommends performing flexibility or stretching exercises most days of the week. Take short 5-10 minute stretch breaks for every hour that a static posture (sitting or standing) is sustained.

What is Ergonomics?

“Ergonomics (human factors) is the scientific discipline concerned with the interactions among humans and other elements of a system (e.g. tools equipment, products, tasks, organization, technology and environment)” (Association of Canadian Ergonomists).

Ergonomic hazards are “workplace conditions that pose a risk of injury to the musculoskeletal system of an employee” (Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety).

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Ergonomics and Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs)

Ergonomic hazards that go unidentified may lead to the development of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

“Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are injuries and disorders of the musculoskeletal system. The musculoskeletal system includes: muscles, tendons and tendon sheathes, nerves, bursa, blood vessels, joints/spinal discs, and ligaments. MSDs do not include musculoskeletal injuries or disorders that are the direct result of a fall, struck by or against, caught in or on, vehicle collision, violence, etc.” (The Occupational Health and Safety Council of Ontario - PDF).

The most common area of the body to be affected by MSDs is the back but frequently the neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists and hands are involved. Hips, knees, legs and feet can also be affected.

People may be more familiar with the medical diagnoses that are covered by the term MSDs. Some of these include:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome (wrist/hand)
  • Epicondylitis (tennis or golfer’s elbow)
  • Back Pain
  • Rotator cuff syndrome or disorder (shoulder)
  • Muscle strain
  • Tension neck syndrome
  • Tendonitis or tenoynovitis (anywhere in the body)

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Risk Factors

The primary risk factors for MSDs are the physical demands of a task, including: force, repetition and work posture. When assessing each risk factor, it is important to consider the duration (how long) and magnitude (how much) of the task.

Other MSD hazards and workplace factors that should be considered include:

  • contact stress,
  • local or hand/arm vibration,
  • whole body vibration,
  • cold temperatures,
  • hot work environments,
  • repeated impacts,
  • work organization, and work methods

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The Cost to Business

The Ontario Ministry of Labour reports that musculoskeletal disorders are estimated to have cost Ontario employers more than $1 billion in direct and indirect costs. MSDs are the leading cause of work-related lost times claims accounting for:

  • 43% of all claims involving time lost from work
  • 43% of all costs related to time lost from work
  • 46% of all days lost from work

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Strategies for Workplaces and Employees

There are a number of resources available to employers to assist with identifying and controlling workplace hazards some of which are included below.

Workplace Recommendations

Tips for Employees
  • Know your rights and responsibilities. Both the Canadian and Ontario Health and Safety Legislation require employers to control MSD hazards in a workplace.
  • Implement a strategy to eliminate or reduce MSD through the development MSD prevention policies and programs (PDF)
  • Review your health and safety program to see how you can incorporate or further strengthen MSD prevention activities.
  • Ensure workers and supervisors are trained on how to recognize, assess and eliminate/control MSD hazards (PDF, 1.8mb, 56pgs)
  • Train supervisors on what to do if they identify a hazard or if a worker has a concern.
  • Ensure that all equipment and materials used in the workplace are free from MSD hazards.
  • Confirm that new equipment meets safety standards before purchasing it.
  • Understand your rights and responsibilities with regards to MSD hazards in the workplace.
  • Report any MSD hazards and concerns to your supervisor.
  • Use the equipment and tools provided to reduce exposure to MSD hazards.
  • Educate yourself on MSDs and how to make adjustments to your workstation to suit you and the work you do.
  • Take frequent rest breaks to do some stretching or move around and adjust your positions.
  • Go to your supervisor with questions, concerns or to request additional training.
  • Provide suggestions to your supervisor or your health and safety representative on how to improve working conditions in the workplace.
  • Be aware of what the MSD symptoms are and if you have any, report them to your supervisor.

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Additional Resources

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Other Topics

Revised: November 19, 2015

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