In Canada, regulatory action to protect workers from musculoskeletal disorders (“MSD”) is limited.

Federal legislation

Amendments in 2007 to Part XIX of the Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations require employers to incorporate ergonomic-related hazards responsible for the development of MSDs into their legally mandated Workplace Hazard Prevention Program. The Workplace Hazard Prevention Program must include a hazard identification and assessment process, development of preventive measures and ergonomics training. Employers are also required to develop, implement and monitor such a program in consultation with and with the participation of the policy committee, or, if there is no policy committee, the workplace committee or health and safety representative.

Provincial legislation

Among provincial jurisdictions, British Columbia has the most comprehensive legislation related to MSD prevention. Sections 4.46 to 4.53 of British Columbia’s OHS Regulation require employers to consult joint health and safety committee members and affected workers in identifying, assessing and controlling the risks associated with the development of musculoskeletal injuries (“MSI”). The employer must also ensure that a worker who may be exposed to a risk of an MSI is educated in risk identification related to the work, including the recognition of early signs and symptoms of MSIs and their potential health effects.

Saskatchewan and Manitoba have enacted similar prescriptive legislation related to the prevention of musculoskeletal injuries.

In Ontario, there is no prescriptive legislation related to the prevention of MSDs and/or ergonomic-related hazards.

In 2007, the Ontario Ministry of Labour (“MOL”) released two MSD prevention resource documents developed by the Occupational Health and Safety Council of Ontario (“OHSCO”). The MSD Prevention Guideline and Resource Manual provide workplaces with a framework for preventing MSDs in the workplace through identification, assessment and control of MSD-related hazards. In 2008, OHSCO released an accompanying MSD Prevention Toolbox, which contains information on tools designed to aid workplaces in assessing, implementing and monitoring their MSD prevention programs.  

Without prescriptive legislation in Ontario, employers must rely on the general duty clause contained in section 25(2)(h) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, R.S.O. 1990, Chapter O.1 (OHSA). (Several other Canadian jurisdictions contain general duty clauses, similar to Ontario’s in their OHS legislation). This clause requires employers to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker.

The general duty clause may be interpreted to mean that the employer must take reasonable steps to prevent MSDrelated hazards in the workplace. The MOL will likely consider the OHSCO MSD Prevention Guideline and accompanying materials as a determinant of what is reasonable to protect workers from MSD-related hazards.