Psychosocial Risk Factors and Musculoskeletal Injuries

Man holding his neck in pain

Work-related musculoskeletal injuries (MSIs), including sprains and strains, are a significant issue in Manitoba.

These injuries harm the muscles, tendons, nerves, ligaments, blood vessels and other soft tissues of the body. MSIs on average account for 40-60% of a workplace’s injuries. In 2019, over 4,200 lost time claims were reported to the WCB of Manitoba, totaling 206,140 lost days. MSIs are often painful, long lasting, and can significantly affect a person’s quality of life and ability to earn an income. Workers, management, and health and safety committees must be educated to identify jobs with ergonomic hazards, assess the level of risk and find a safer way to perform the job to minimize the number and severity of MSIs.

Ergonomic hazards are both physical and non-physical. An area of study in Ergonomics involves psychosocial issues which includes non-physical hazards. Workers not only interact with equipment and tools in their workstation, but they also interact with other people, are influenced by the organization’s culture and systems, and the cognitive demands placed on them by work. These psychosocial issues are also linked to the reporting of MSIs.

Physical risk factors that can cause or aggravate MSIs include:

  • repetitive motion
  • forceful exertion
  • vibration
  • mechanical compression
  • a sustained or awkward posture
  • a limitation on motion or action
  • any other factor that creates a risk of musculoskeletal injury.

Since the 1990s, research has shown a link between non-physical risk factors and workers who report MSIs and/or have difficult return to work issues. Some of these non-physical risk factors include deadline pressure, lack of job control, high cognitive demand, poor safety culture issues, low job satisfaction, stress, and organizational systems that strain workers mentally.

Why do workers report more injuries when they are mentally overloaded, feel stress and have job uncertainty? There is ongoing research seeking to answer this question as well as the wider issue of how we can make jobs better and less stressful. Examples of ‘Psychosocial Risk Factors’ include organizational level factors such as a workplace’s culture, policies, expectations, and social attitudes, as well as individual level issues such as work pace, job control, social interactions, monotony, deadline pressure, and job satisfaction. It is difficult to measure psychosocial factors when compared with the physical aspects of work such as weight, posture angles, or the number times a movement occurs. However, through continued education, an awareness of the importance of these issues and strategies to address them in a proactive way, and by talking to workers about their concerns and experience, a better workplace and overall safety culture can be developed.

Occupational Health Centre is making strides to educate health and safety committees and workplaces about the importance of these risk factors. As part of our 2021 RSI Awareness Day activities, OHC hosted a virtual event in which four experts gave short presentations on this topic, Making the Link Between Psychosocial Factors and Musculoskeletal Injuries. All presentations can be found in the Webinars section of our website.

Join us on RSI Day (celebrated on February 28th this year) for another exciting virtual conference expanding on this topic, Psychosocial Factors and Musculoskeletal Injuries (MSI): Next Steps, featuring speakers from the Institute for Work and Health and Université du Québec à Montréal.