Manual Materials Handling

Manual Materials Handling includes the lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling and carrying of loads and it occurs in all sectors. Please note that Patient Handling is not the specific topic of this forum but we would expect it to be explored in any subsequent discussions.

Taking MSD Prevention to the next step
The MSD Prevention Guideline for Ontario is now five years old. Ontario needs to evaluate its success and work out what to do next. On June 27th, 2011, one hundred people came together in Toronto, to learn, to discuss, and to plan how to take Ontario’s musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) strategy one step further. The focus of the discussion forum was on the reduction of MSDs from the hazards of Manual Materials Handling (MMH). Read the full report

Those who attended the discussion forum came from organized labour (six different unions), business (transportation, electrical utilities, high tech, retail, steel, and energy), the health and safety associations, the Ministry of Labour, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), researchers, injured workers, and consultants.

The day-long event was hosted by the Center of Research Expertise for the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders (CRE-MSD). CRE-MSD is a research centre hosted by the University of Waterloo. It is made up of a network of 37 researchers across 12 different universities and institutions. It is funded by the WSIB.

Sophie Dennis, the Assistant Deputy Minister from the Ontario Ministry of Labour and Richard Wells, the Director of CRE-MSD, opened the Forum. They focused on the personal and financial burden of MSDs and the importance of finding an effective strategy to reduce these injuries and disabilities.

The morning had presentations from other jurisdictions and health and safety systems. Invited speakers from British Columbia, the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom related their experiences with creating and implementing policies and procedures on Manual Materials Handling. All the speakers touched on the Discussion Forum themes: jurisdictional approaches (e.g. legislation, codes of practice or guidelines); MMH risk assessment; resources for workplace parties/stakeholders/inspectors (such as training, tools, guidance, case studies, information, consultation, website content); strategies that are sector specific or for small businesses; communication strategies; and evaluation. The speakers’ presentations are posted below:

  • British Columbia was represented by Ed McClosky and Peter Goyert. They noted that the province has had ergonomic legislation for a number of years, but that their inspectors have written few orders on issues related to ergonomics.
Presentation slides
Presentation video

  • Tom Armstrong from the U.S. described multiple initiatives, including those of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) and Washington State, but noted that only in California were regulations currently in place.
Presentation slides
Presentation video

  • Jean Mangharam from Western Australia described how her Ministry of Labour is setting about creating a strategy to reduce MSDs.
Presentation slides
Presentation video

  • Mike Gray from the Health and Safety Executive in the United Kingdom, described how educational material that had been written for their inspectors has been made public and is now being used by employers.
Presentation slides
Presentation video

John Vander Doelen from the Ministry of Labour got the afternoon going by stressing the importance of using the knowledge gained from the morning’s cross-jurisdictional review, to create a made-in-Ontario strategy. The participants then engaged in small-group discussions. Ten groups discussed two questions in relation to the six Forum themes. The questions were:

  • What would success in Ontario look like?

  • How can we adapt what we heard this morning to achieve that success in Ontario?

The discussions were lively, engaging and fully collaborative. The ideas that emerged from the groups covered all the themes and were creative, innovative, and thoughtful. View group discussion notes

The day closed with a rousing call to arms from Elizabeth Mills, the CEO of Workplace Safety and Prevention Services. The presence of the large diverse group, representing all aspects of the workplace, has given weight to any future prevention and policy outcomes that arise from the sharing of this knowledge.

CRE-MSD has created a report that summarizes the forum and that will help inform future prevention efforts in Ontario for these painful and costly injuries. CRE-MSD organized this Forum, building on its reputation for creating safe venues for contentious issues to be discussed.

CRE-MSD research spans the field of MSD-prevention research from intensive, lab-based studies in cell and tissue disorders and injury, to the creation, implementation and evaluation of prevention programs. The Centre conducts collaborative research with organized labour and employers, health and safety associations, occupational health clinics and training centres, the WSIB and MOL. We have research projects that are workplace-focused and stakeholder-partnered that have led to increases in knowledge and awareness, and applications within the OHS system on the prevention of strains and sprains.

In preparation for the Forum, CRE-MSD prepared a Manual Materials Handling Resources Document that provides links on resources on MMH from health and safety jurisdictions. This can be accessed from the CRE-MSD website as well. It is a living document, and if you are aware of other resources, you can post their links to the CRE-MSD public forum: r2P (Research to Practice), ( or email them to Betina Butler (

Forum Agenda
Forum Program
MMH Resources Document
Breakout Session Notes
Group Discussion Notes
Forum Report