Ask the ExpertCategory: QuestionsEmployers Obligation for Ergonomic Assessments
hri_Admin Staff asked 4 years ago

What is an employer’s obligation for employees in regards to ergonomics?  We are in an office environment and have received doctor’s notes from a couple of employees requesting an ergonomic assessment completed due to back and shoulder pain.  We have not been made aware of any inquiries to these individuals and they have not been off of work for an extended periods of time.  One doctor’s note states shoulder pain due to poor office set up.  We have provided tips for staff on how to make their work space more ergonomically friendly.  Further if it is recommended that a new chair or sit to stand desk is required, is it the employer’s responsibility to purchase it?

1 Answers
Glenn Demby Staff answered 4 years ago

Under Sec. 211 of the Alberta OHS Code, once worker report what they believe to be work related symptoms of musculoskeletal injuries (MSIs)–as your workers have done–the employer must promptly:
* Review the activities of that worker, and of other workers doing similar tasks, to identify work-related causes of the symptoms, if any; and
* Take corrective measures to avoid further injuries if the causes of the symptoms are work related.
Let’s relate this to your situation. First, 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 enuf to trigger your obligation to have a consultant or other competent person do the assessment.
As for corrective measures, ergonomic training is a start but it’s not enuf. You also need to consider what are called “reasonably practicable” engineering controls including reconfiguration of work space and providing 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 they’re equally effective in preventing MRI risks.
Bottom Line: Sounds like you need to get a consultant to do an MSI assessment and take measures to fix the problems he/she finds. Based on what u say, I have a strong hunch that those measures will include work space reconfiguration and ergonomic furniture. Hope that helps. Glenn. glennd@bongarde.com