A couple of our employees have provided us doctor’s notes saying they’re suffering job-related back and shoulder pain and requesting that we do an ergonomic assessment. One of the notes cites poor office set up as the cause. These notes came as a surprise because none of these employees have missed work or complained before. We also provide tips to help staff make their work space more ergonomically-friendly. Do we have to do the assessment? And do we have buy ergonomic furniture if the employees need it? We’re in Alberta.
Yes and Yes.
As do most jurisdictions, Alberta (OHS Code, Sec. 211) requires that once workers report what they believe to be work-related symptoms of musculoskeletal injuries (MSIs), the employer must promptly:
- Review the activities of that worker, and of other workers doing similar tasks, to identify any work-related causes of the symptoms; and
- Take corrective measures to avoid further injuries if the causes of the symptoms are work-related.
Since your workers have reported MSI symptoms, you need to do an MSI hazard assessment that includes work station set up (along with other MSI risk factors, e.g., task duration, stress, repetition, etc.). One note from a doctor doesn’t prove your set up is causing MSIs. But it is enough to trigger your obligation to have a consultant or other competent person do an assessment.
As for corrective measures, tips and ergonomic training is a start. But you also need to consider use of “reasonably practicable” engineering controls including reconfiguration of work space and ergonomically-friendly furniture and equipment. If such controls are “reasonably practicable,” you must provide them at your own expense. If they’re not reasonably practicable, you can use alternative measures (called administrative/work controls) as long as you can show they’re equally effective in preventing MRI risks.