Some people can learn simply by listening to someone speak about a safety topic. But others need visual aids to really get the message. A pilot project from the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) uses that very approach to teach vulnerable workers about musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
The IWH and Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS), an Ontario health and safety association serving the manufacturing, services and agricultural sectors, evaluated the effectiveness of pictograms (visual symbols), along with training, to protect workers in prep kitchens. MSDs were selected because they account for 30% of long-term claims, 53% of lost-time days and 49% of benefit costs in Ontario’s service sector.
Because pictograms use a universal language, they’re particularly helpful in explaining prohibited or desired actions to workers for whom English is a second language or those with low literacy skills. (Here’s more information on handling language barriers in the workplace.)
Hazard and control pictograms were developed for four task-specific MSD risks:
- Handling large containers of food to be prepped
- Moving prepped food to the cooking area
- Reaching for stored materials.
The researchers also created a training program at a Grade 6 reading level designed to:
- Identify MSD hazards
- Explain what can be done to reduce the risk of being hurt
- Talk about where to get help at work
- Talk about ways to avoid injury.
The pictograms and training were implemented in seven kitchens where observations were conducted over three months.
To assess the changes in knowledge among prep kitchen staff, their MSD risk practices and their pain and discomfort reports after having received MSD and pictogram-specific training and having the pictograms posted in their work areas, the researchers used the following:
- A daily symptom survey;
- Recorded observations of whether participants were engaged in risky behaviour; and
- A 14-item knowledge test, which was completed by workers immediately before and after their training session.
The project, which was funded by the WSIB, found that the pictograms led to an increase in knowledge about MSDs among prep kitchen workers and a decrease in risk-related work practices—effectively confirming that the use of pictograms within a health and safety context is a good idea.