The Ontario government, hoping to cut the thousands of repetitive strain injuries suffered by workers each year, is striking a special advisory group to recommend ways to protect employees.
The province wants to reduce the number of ergonomically related injuries in the workplace by 20 per cent by 2008.
In 2003, there were 41,670 musculoskeletal injuries in the workplace due to overexertion or ergonomic problems.
"That's over 40 per cent of all workplace lost-time injuries," Labour Minister Chris Bentley, who announced the advisory panel on Monday, said.
The cost of injured workers to businesses --both in the public and private sector-- in the province is staggering, Mr. Bentley told globeandmail.com.
In 2003, according to Workers Safety and Insurance Board of Ontario, 10 per cent of the 40,000 plus musculoskeletal injuries were repetitive stress injuries. Further, the estimated lost productivity to businesses was $60,000 per injury, Mr. Bentley said.
That's the average loss in terms of productivity, retraining, rehiring, damage to equipment, and WSIB costs, he said.
"This is the key message -- most employers don't realize how much an injury will really cost them."
The advisory group is charged with coming up with policies and practices for ways to reduce the number of injuries in sectors where workplace injuries are common and well-documented, such as manufacturing industry, industrial and automotive. But Mr. Bentley says the group will also look at improving health and safety issues and avoiding repetitive stress injury for white collar, office workers.
"The simple fact is you have to get control of the ergonomic injuries because they are the fastest growing types of injuries," Mr. Bentley said.
Also, he said the group will likely recommend raising awareness in general of repetitive strain injuries at work -- for both employers and employees.
"If you don't, you can create a lifetime of heartache for somebody."
The advisory panel will begin meeting on March 7 and will report back to the minister with their recommendations within six months. Those regulations may include regulatory or legislative changes, he said.
But he says he wants the group to address whether enforcement is the way to address unsafe workplaces, or whether better education on the issue would be the way to go, or, whether a combination of the two would be best.
The government has already taken some action to deal with the problems, including providing $60-million earlier this month for bed lifts to help reduce back injuries for nurses, and the hiring of 125 health and safety inspectors who will begin visiting high-risk workplaces to see whether practices are putting employees in danger.
The government plans to hire 100 more inspectors over the next year.
"We're making sure that all of the occupational health and safety rules are enforced. But obviously the fact you have more inspectors means you can get out to more workplaces...and you can do it in more of a proactive fashion rather than just reacting to critical injuries."
Mr. Bentley believes it's possible to reduce the number of ergonomic injuries within three years.
Other provinces, including British Columbia and Saskatchewan, already have ergonomic regulations.