Data and insights will tell you where to focus your strategy. No two organizations are the same. Your unique needs and objectives will determine your areas of focus. However, there are key elements we recommend all workplaces include in their MSK health strategy:

  • Training for leadership and employees
  • Policies and practices for supporting return to work and accommodation
  • Targeted solutions 
  • Workplace safety
  • Resources for employees

Key element:

Make training mandatory for all employees and people leaders. Ensure it is easy to access and offered regularly. 

Consider the MSK risks specific to your organization and job demands. Ensure training covers how employees can help to protect themselves against injury. Include targeted training for departments with high rates of workplace injuries. 

Why is training important?

Training can:

  • increase productivity
  • reduce disability and worker’s compensation costs
  • improve lifting and body mechanics
  • improve employee overall health
  • enhance knowledge of:
    • safety protocols and procedures
    • safe material handling and lifting techniques 
    • self-care to prevent injuries 

It also helps leaders better understand how to promote and support employee MSK health. Remember, leaders must demonstrate their committment to supporting employee MSK health and safety. This will lay the foundation for a safe and healthy workplace. 

Although your focus might be MSK health, keep in mind health is interconnected. Include mental and financial health as part of your training program. 

Plan ahead:

Before you develop a workplace training program, think about these questions:

  1. Who is the target of the training? (i.e. all employees, or a specific department?) 
  2. What are your short- and long-term goals? 
  3. What type of training best fits your organization? In-person, online? Be sure to include multiple delivery methods.
  4. How will you measure success? Have clear KPIs that will determine whether your training was successful.


Tailor the content of your training based on your organization's needs. Consider job areas with the most injuries and absences due to back issues. Topics could include:

  • how to lift safely
  • body mechanics
  • importance of proper posture
  • importance of core strength
  • basic ergonomics
  • early warning signs of MSK problems
  • manager communication skills and tips for talking to employees
  • accommodating employees with MSK issues
  • duty to accommodate legislation

Accommodation policies and practices are important to supporting employees returning to work from an absence. They can also be an important part of an employee’s recovery. Having modified work and hours available helps to reduce disability costs through reduced:

  • claim incidence
  • claim durations
  • recurrence rates

Returning to work following an absence can be difficult. Support and understanding are critical for ensuring a successful return to work. Work with the employee to create a suitable return to work plan. Make sure the return to work plan is clearly written and communicated.

Essential elements of the plan:

  • share clear policies and procedures for your organization and what can be accommodated. Be consistent.
  • communicate expectations
  • develop modified job duties and/or hours
  • provide accommodations
  • prepare for any necessary interventions

Take accommodation seriously. Ensure you have best practices and various options in place. Consult your legal advisor for more help understanding accommodation legislation.

Provide all employees requiring accommodation a Functional Abilities Form to be completed by their health-care provider. This will tell you the employee’s medical restrictions and limitations. Compare this with the job demands in order to measure any functional gap. To prepare an employee for a return to their job, it’s important to fully understand:

  • the job requirements
  • their functional abilities
  • restrictions and limitations

Find out more about our absence and disability management solutions here.

Each organization, employee and situation is unique. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Determine what solutions best fit your organization’s and employees’ needs through analysis.

  • What are the MSK health needs of your employees?
    • Have you done an employee survey recently to ask whether they find value in their benefit plan?
    • Consider the needs of your unique demographics.
  • Are employees using the resources available to them?
    • Look at your benefit utilization trends.
    • Ensure you have a communication plan to educate and create awareness about what’s available.
  • Are there any barriers or gaps in support?
    • Do you have enough coverage for employees to get help when they need it?

Offer supports for employees at different stages in their health-care journey.

Employees can benefit from a continuum of programs and supports. This ranges from those that:

  • aim to lower the risk of developing back pain
  • reverse or slow down developing chronic back disorders
  • help to rehabilitate and treat a specific injury

Benefit maximums

It’s important that employees have adequate paramedical service coverage through their Extended Health Care (EHC) benefits. Low benefit maximums can be a barrier to recovery. Back injuries can take anywhere from a few days to several months to resolve. Regular treatment will help shorten this time. Consider someone who requires 4 weeks off work for a back injury. With 2 treatment sessions per week, the cost might range from $400 to $800 or more. 

Low benefit maximums can also discourage proactive treatment. Employees may feel the need to avoid early treatment, fearing they will not have coverage when they need it most. However, this can cause an injury to worsen, requiring more time off. 

Consider individual maximums for health-care providers instead of a combined maximum. This will allow employees additional coverage for the treatment they need. Common MSK practitioners include:

  • chiropractors
  • massage therapists
  • physiotherapists
  • kinesiologists
  • osteopaths

Personal fitness and lifestyle factors are very important to preventing back injuries. However, the workplace and job itself can put employees at increased risk of injury, regardless of fitness level. 

Identify hazards

Assess every role to identify potential hazards. Look for things like repetitive tasks, heavy lifting requirements and awkward postures. These increase the risk of back injury. 

Control hazards

Your goal should be to eliminate hazards, when possible. If not possible, reduce the exposure to the hazard to lessen the risk of injury. Try to redesign the job or environment if you can. For example, an overhead crane can help lift heavy items. A specialist, such as an ergonomist, can help identify hazards and provide recommendations. For more information on health and safety, visit your province or territory’s Ministry of Labour website, or the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.

No one understands the job better than the employees performing it. They can help you identify hazards and come up with appropriate solutions. Make sure you have a system in place for employees to provide feedback about hazards and suggestions. You will need a formal process for reviewing the feedback and taking appropriate action. Your health and safety committee is a good resource for this.  

Make safety a priority

Supervisors and leaders need to demonstrate their commitment to safety in the workplace. Working safely should be prioritized over working quickly. For example, include prevention and safety tips at the beginning of every meeting. Include tips for preventing injuries both at home and at work. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety has a variety of posters and promotional tools available to help prevent injuries. 

Physical Demands Analysis (PDA)

What is a PDA?

A job description highlights the duties of a job. A Physical Demands Analysis (PDA), on the other hand, highlights the demands of a job. Using the PDA, you can identify any aspects of the job that put the employee at increased risk of injury. If possible, you should try to keep updated PDAs available for every role in your organization. 

Who can complete a PDA?

Examples of people who can complete a PDA include kinesiologists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and ergonomists.

Why is it important?

PDAs are important for a number of different reasons:

  • They help identify hazards that increase the chance of injury. 
  • They can be used during hiring to ensure eligible candidates are physically capable of performing the job demands safely.
  • They are important for accommodation and return-to-work planning. The employee’s restrictions and limitations can be compared against the PDA to determine where accommodations might be needed.