Manual Materials Handling, Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs), and Back Care

Have you ever had back pain? If you have worked in construction or electric utility, you probably have. You have to be fit. But it takes more than strength. It takes technique. Some learned the hard way. Almost 75% of North Americans will get low back pain at some point in their lives.

But a back injury in construction and electric utility work can be more than pain; your future may be on the line. Back injuries account for approximately 35% of all lost time injury. A back injury may keep you off the job for good and can affect you at home, and the time you spend with family, friends, hobbies, and sports.

You don’t need to learn the hard way. Back injuries are seldom the result of a single manual material handing task such as lifting, carrying, pushing or pulling. A serious back injury is usually the result of an accumulation of many small injuries over time. Every manual material handing task is important.

What can you do to prevent a back injury? The best way to prevent a back injury is to keep your back in mind when working. Proper posture, housekeeping, heavy equipment, and the use of material handling equipment can help to prevent back injuries.

There are no specific regulations that the outline measures related to materials handling or the prevention of back injuries and musculoskeletal disorders in Ontario. However, the lack of specific guidelines does not mean that employers and constructors have no responsibility for preventing back injuries or the development of musculoskeletal disorders. In general, employers and constructors must take all reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of workers on a project.

Their responsibilities include:

  • all material or equipment must be stored and moved in a manner that does not endanger a worker
  • identifying hazards on a project that could result in back injuries or musculoskeletal disorders
  • establishing procedures to reduce exposure to these hazards and prevent back injuries and the development of musculoskeletal disorders
  • informing workers and supervisors of relevant hazards
  • promoting safety by providing workers with instruction and supervision
  • confirming preventative measures are effective through ongoing review of hazards and procedures
  • ensuring all equipment and materials being used are in good condition, including any personal protective equipment ;
  • requiring the use of protective equipment where needed to prevent injury and protect against hazards ;
  • Instructing and training workers in caring for and using protective clothing or equipment before use
  • ensuring all workers follow safety procedures and use the personal protective equipment properly

Construction Projects
O. Reg. 213/91


Section 21 Protective Clothing, Equipment and Devices

21. (1) A worker shall wear such protective clothing and use such personal protective equipment or devices as are necessary to protect the worker against the hazards to which the worker may be exposed.

(2) A worker's employer shall require the worker to comply with subsection (1).

(3) A worker required to wear protective clothing or use personal protective equipment or devices shall be adequately instructed and trained in the care and use of the clothing, equipment or device before wearing or using it.

Section 37

37. (1) Material or equipment at a project shall be stored and moved in a manner that does not endanger a worker.

(2) No material or equipment to be moved by a crane or similar hoisting device shall be stored under or in close proximity to an energized outdoor overhead electrical conductor.

R.S.O. 1990, c. O.1


Section 23 Duties of constructor

23. (1) A constructor shall ensure, on a project undertaken by the constructor that,

(a) the measures and procedures prescribed by this Act and the regulations are carried out on the project;

(b) every employer and every worker performing work on the project complies with this Act and the regulations; and

(c) the health and safety of workers on the project is protected.

(2) Where so prescribed, a constructor shall, before commencing any work on a project, give to a Director notice in writing of the project containing such information as may be prescribed.

Section 25 Duties of employers

25. (1) An employer shall ensure that,

(a) the equipment, materials and protective devices as prescribed are provided;

(b) the equipment, materials and protective devices provided by the employer are maintained in good condition;

(c) the measures and procedures prescribed are carried out in the workplace;

(d) the equipment, materials and protective devices provided by the employer are used as prescribed; and

(e) a building, structure, or any part thereof, or any other part of a workplace, whether temporary or permanent, is capable of supporting any loads that may be applied to it,

(i) as determined by the applicable design requirements established under the version of the Building Code that was in force at the time of its construction,

(ii) in accordance with such other requirements as may be prescribed, or

(iii) in accordance with good engineering practice, if subclauses (i) and (ii) do not apply.

(2) Without limiting the strict duty imposed by subsection (1), an employer shall,

(a) provide information, instruction and supervision to a worker to protect the health or safety of the worker;

(b) in a medical emergency for the purpose of diagnosis or treatment, provide, upon request, information in the possession of the employer, including confidential business information, to a legally qualified medical practitioner and to such other persons as may be prescribed;

(c) when appointing a supervisor, appoint a competent person;

(d) acquaint a worker or a person in authority over a worker with any hazard in the work and in the handling, storage, use, disposal and transport of any article, device, equipment or a biological, chemical or physical agent;

(e) afford assistance and co-operation to a committee and a health and safety representative in the carrying out by the committee and the health and safety representative of any of their functions;

(f) only employ in or about a workplace a person over such age as may be prescribed;

(g) not knowingly permit a person who is under such age as may be prescribed to be in or about a workplace;

(h) take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker;

(i) post, in the workplace, a copy of this Act and any explanatory material prepared by the Ministry, both in English and the majority language of the workplace, outlining the rights, responsibilities and duties of workers;

(j) prepare and review at least annually a written occupational health and safety policy and develop and maintain a program to implement that policy;

(k) post at a conspicuous location in the workplace a copy of the occupational health and safety policy;

(l) provide to the committee or to a health and safety representative the results of a report respecting occupational health and safety that is in the employer's possession and, if that report is in writing, a copy of the portions of the report that concern occupational health and safety; and

(m) advise workers of the results of a report referred to in clause (l) and, if the report is in writing, make available to them on request copies of the portions of the report that concern occupational health and safety.

(3) For the purposes of clause (2)(c), an employer may appoint himself or herself as a supervisor where the employer is a competent person.

(3.1) Any explanatory material referred to under clause(2) (i) may be published as part of the poster required under section 2 of the Employment Standards Act, 2000.

(4) Clause (2)(j) does not apply with respect to a workplace at which five or fewer workers are regularly employed.

[S.O. 2009, c. 23, s. 2; 2011, c. 1, Sch. 7, s. 2; 2011, c. 11, s. 9]