The Fundamentals - Ergonomics

Ergonomics, an applied science, can be defined as fitting the job to the worker. It involves designing workstations, work processes, equipment and tools to fit the employee. It is important for workers to know how to adjust their office workstations to suit their individual needs.

Federal Jurisdiction

Within the federal public service, in accordance with the Canada Labour Code, Part II, section 125(1) (t) and (u):

  • (t) Employers are required to ensure that the workplace, workspaces and procedures meet prescribed ergonomic standards.
  • (u) In addition, employers are also responsible to ensure that machinery, equipment and tools used by workers in the course of their employment meet prescribed health, safety and ergonomic standards.

People respond to ergonomic risk factors in individual ways. Some tasks can injure one worker, while others performing the same tasks may not have any symptoms. Ergonomic risk factors should be identified and reduced to lower the risk of injury for all. Even those workers who are not experiencing pain should take ergonomics seriously in order to reduce the risk of developing an injury.

The National Joint Council (NJC) has completed the amalgamation of all occupational health and safety directives (National Joint Council: Occupational Health and Safety Directive). The OHS directive contains enhancements to the Canada Labour Code, Part II.

Ergonomic Hazards

Ergonomic hazards are workplace conditions that pose the risk of injury to an employee. They include repetitive and forceful movements, vibration, temperature extremes, and static and awkward postures that arise from improper work methods and improperly designed workstations, tools and equipment. The main ergonomic risk factors in the office are:

  • Repetition: Tasks or body movements carried out over and over again;
  • Awkward postures: Body positions that deviate from neutral, such as twisting the neck to view a monitor or reaching to use a mouse; and
  • Static forces: Maintaining a position for a prolonged period of time (e.g., prolonged sitting, viewing the monitor with a bent neck, or reaching for the keyboard).

Useful Resources

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, Labour Program

The Labour Program identifies a number of resources that allow managers to establish a successful ergonomic-related hazard prevention process and implement ergonomic-related hazard controls.

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS)

The CCOHS promotes a safe and healthy working environment by providing information and advice about occupational health and safety:

Canadian Standards Association (CSA)

The CSA Guideline on Office Ergonomics is a resource for office workers and employers who are responsible for health and safety or ergonomics programs in the workplace. It is also relied upon by facility designers, purchasers, health and safety regulatory agencies and manufacturers, and designers associated with office ergonomics.

Canadian Standards Association: Guideline on Office Ergonomics CSA-Z412-00 (R2005)

Promising Practices

Public Service Commission of Canada (PSC)

The PSC aims to establish a workplace that promotes health and safety for all its employees. The ergonomic process requires employees to consult and apply self-assessment techniques. Problems that are not resolved by these techniques may require an ergonomic assessment. It examines the relationship between the worker and the work environment to create a setting that enhances both human performance and well-being. A personalized ergonomic assessment will provide a comprehensive report containing:

  • A workstation evaluation;
  • Identification of potentially hazardous working conditions; and
  • Recommendations to prevent or decrease the occurrence of injuries.

An ergonomic assessment for an individual workstation takes approximately one hour to complete. The extent of the service depends on the employee's request or level of pain.

Employees who feel the need for an ergonomic assessment can request one from their manager. A medical certificate is not required.

Once the assessment has been completed, the ergo-therapist will provide a written report that summarizes the findings and provides recommendations, when required. If specific ergonomic equipment, such as a keyboard or a mouse, is recommended, it is the responsibility of the manager to discuss these needs with the employee and to purchase the required items. When ergonomic task chairs are required, they are fitted and ordered by the PSC Occupational Health and Safety Officer.

The Ergo-Coach Program

The PSC ergonomic coaching service provides a number of services:

  • Coaches employees on the use of furniture and equipment;
  • Helps employees adjust new furniture and equipment to suit individual needs;
  • Follows up with employees who have had assessments to ensure recommendations have been implemented and assists with any outstanding recommendations;
  • Reviews ergonomic assessment reports to determine which actions need to be implemented and to select appropriate furniture and equipment;
  • Helps size chairs to suit employees who need them; and
  • Troubleshoots difficulties implementing recommendations and provides advice to resolve problems.

Canada Revenue Agency(CRA)

  • The Adaptive Technology Program (ATP), an internal program of the CRA, is responsible for the testing, evaluation, and provision of adaptive technologies to employees with disabilities and functional limitations, thus helping employees fulfill job requirements consistent with their abilities, qualifications and experience. The program responds to legislated requirements of the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Employment Equity Act.
  • This program provides:
    • Adaptive technology on a trial basis or for the length of an employee's career with the federal public service;
    • Products on short-term loan for evaluation to term employees, clients attending training courses, and individuals who are candidates in the selection process;
    • Accessibility testing and counselling services for documentation, applications and websites;
    • Informational documentation and tips on best practices for accessibility of documentation, Web pages, and applications;
    • Adaptive technology assessment services to determine the adaptive technology needs of individuals with disabilities and limitations based on their abilities, tasks and environment; and
    • Support, advice, consultation and guidance to users of adaptive technology, their managers, local IT support staff, and employment equity coordinators.
  • The ATP primarily provides computer and telephone-related devices for a wide range of disabilities and limitations. This includes, but is not limited to, speech recognition software, screen magnification software, screen readers, and a variety of hardware (alternative keyboards, mice, closed circuit televisions, etc.) for visual, dexterity, mobility or other impairments. The ATP does not provide portable or desktop computers, computer monitors or furniture and is not responsible for ergonomic adjustment to workstations.
  • The CRA's Employment Equity Technical Aids Fund covers most of the cost of adaptive technology for persons with disabilities. Products are available whenever they are recommended by a qualified practitioner. For those employees not eligible for funding under the Technical Aids Fund, the cost of products is normally recovered from the budget of the employee's manager at the conclusion of a successful trial.

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC)

The Integrated Ergonomics Program (IEP) outlines the department's approach to providing ergonomic services through preventive measures. The IEP is designed to reduce or eliminate workplace ergonomic hazards and focus on the prevention of ergo-related injuries and musculoskeletal disorders. The IEP incorporates the following:

Preventive Measures

  • Employee access to necessary information, tools and procedures
  • Adaptation of equipment through self-adjustment tools and ergonomic coaches

Corrective Measures

  • Assessments based on medical indications for employees with limitations, barriers or injuries, using qualified specialists
  • Elimination of hazards and attention to limitations or barriers

National Tools

The HRSDC's national tools support the implementation and management of the IEP:

  • Information and self-adjustment tools;
  • Awareness and training tools;
  • Criteria and standards; and
  • Procedures for requesting and conducting ergonomic evaluations.

Labour Program

The Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations list specific requirements to help employers prevent musculoskeletal injuries. The program has prepared a Preventing Musculoskeletal Injury E-Tool to provide guidance to help employers, joint health and safety committees, and workplace health and safety representatives to implement an effective strategy to help prevent musculoskeletal injuries in the workplace. It includes information that will help a manager to: 

  • Identify factors that place workers at risk;
  • Understand the steps in preventing injuries;
  • Understand how control measures can reduce the risk of injuries; and
  • Investigate injuries and signs or symptoms;

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC)

The AAFC Internal Office Ergonomics Program identifies ergonomic-related hazards and risks. The program focuses on prevention of ergonomic-related injuries by developing and implementing corrective actions for employees. The overall objective is to improve the safety, comfort and efficiency of AAFC employees by controlling ergonomic hazards through proper workstation arrangements, thus preventing work-related musculoskeletal injuries. The program includes group information sessions and individual ergonomic coaching.

The ergo-coaching program provides employees with:

  • The knowledge and ability to adjust existing office equipment, or assistance from the ergo-coach with equipment adjustments if requested or required;
  • Follow up with employees who have had ergonomic assessments completed in relation to the duty to accommodate and who require assistance setting up standard equipment; and
  • Information to establish a standard for the purchase of ergonomic chairs.

If a full ergonomic assessment is required, this service is provided under contract by an external service provider.

National Research Council (NRC)

With the rising incidents of musculoskeletal injuries, a proactive Internal Ergonomics Program (IEP) was developed at the NRC to address discomfort and hazards before injuries occur.

The NRC Internal Ergonomics Program represents a proactive approach to preventing or reducing ergonomic injuries. It provides an excellent opportunity to raise awareness and provides tools to eliminate or reduce workplace injuries and illnesses. The program consists of:

  • Mandatory ergonomic hazard prevention training for all employees;
  • Annual comfort surveys to monitor for potential injuries;
  • Computer workstation checklists, which are completed by the manager for each employee and offer immediate corrective options;
  • Job safety analysis to assess all jobs for the prevention or reduction of ergonomic hazards; and
  • Development of safe work procedures to reduce existing ergonomic hazards and provide training on preventive measures.

One of the most important elements of the IEP is to increase the lines of communication between managers and employees so that employees can be more comfortable reporting hazards to their manager.

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