IRSST - Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail

Sustainable Prevention and Work Environment

Sustainable Prevention and Work Environment

Priority issues

In today’s context of economic globalization and changing industrial and demographic structures, Québec workers and enterprises are grappling with a dramatically evolving work world.

Organizational, demographic, social, and technological changes are imposing certain realities that may have repercussions for the health and safety of the Québec labour force:

  • institutional mergers
  • growth of small enterprises
  • increasing diversification in forms of employment (part-time work, precarious work, sub-contracting, job security)
  • flexible work organization (atypical schedules, telework, “just-in-time,” redefinition of tasks)
  • work intensification
  • new trades and occupations
  • early retirement.

How are the priority issues put into perspective?

Above all, we use:

  • statistical data
  • research mapping
  • scientific monitoring and surveillance

 and we pay close attention to the needs expressed by workplaces.


While the focus is on sustainable prevention of OHS problems, including musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) , this field also helps further understanding of the social, demographic, organizational, and technological factors that have an impact on the occurrence of work-related injuries. To provide clearer guidance for preventive actions taken in workplaces, researchers in the Sustainable Prevention and Work Environment field concentrate their energies on the following priority issues:

  • the work activity and environment
  • characteristics of enterprises
  • human and demographic aspects (age, gender, immigrant workers)
  • training
  • work schedules
  • psychosocial factors.

The development of OHS management tools and ergonomic intervention practices is also an important goal, as is the development and application of measurement methods and evaluation tools by means such as biomechanical measurements and modelling, questionnaires, and surveys.

Three research orientations have been defined in order to achieve this goal:

  • Analysis of OHS problems and assessment of risks in relation to social, organizational, and demographic aspects, and technological changes.
  • Development and application of measurement methods and evaluation tools (measurement of exposures and risk and protection factors, activity analyses, surveys, and data collection tools.
  • Interventions pertinent to, and management of, OHS problems (OHS management in small enterprises, knowledge transfer and training, OHS management steps and tools, adjustment of work situations).

Current themes and programs

Material handling principles

The program on material handling principles hinges on training, but training is seen simply as a gateway to encouraging prevention and actions aimed at changing determinants in the work situation such as equipment, set-up, and work organization. Biomechanical and ergonomic studies provide a basis for developing a new approach to prevention, training instructors, and doing training follow-up in the workplace.

MSDs in emergency call centres

The aim of this program is to document and improve understanding of the problems experienced by emergency call centre agents in order to develop and implement concrete solutions that will prevent the risk of the onset of musculoskeletal and psychological health disorders.

MSDs related to office automation

The aims of this program are to improve understanding of the factors having an impact on the onset of MSDs in workers performing computer work, and to update the best prevention practices to be applied in this context. The ultimate aim is to produce a guide to best practices in the prevention of computer-related problems in collaboration with partners, professionals in the prevention network, and stakeholders in the workplace.

Development and application of measurement methods and evaluation tools

The work related to this theme involves developing ambulatory methods for evaluating back and postural constraints in order to measure worker exposure to ergonomic risks in the workplace.

Interventions in the workplace

The studies conducted under this theme analyze the intervention process used to prevent MSDs and other OHS issues, identify and apply optimal approaches, and assess their impacts.

Transmission of job knowledge and prudent knowledge, and training

The aims of the work carried out under this theme are to study the organizational factors that foster knowledge transmission from experienced to novice workers, ultimately to promote the retention of aging workers in the labour force and evaluate how aspects of OHS can be incorporated into the occupational training offered in the OHS network.

Integration of OHS into the design phase

The integration of OHS right from the design phase represents an important issue in the context of primary prevention in the workplace. This theme focuses special attention on this issue, whether during investment or design projects.

Statistical data: priority issues explained

The researchers in this field place considerable importance on the prevention of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). This unavoidable problem was also targeted as a priority in the CNESST’s 2010–2014 strategic plan with the aim of reducing the number of cases involving MSDs.

From 2005 to 2007, there were slightly more than 92,000 compensated occupational time-loss injuries (TLIs) annually; 37% of these involved MSDs.

From 2005 to 2007, of the roughly 2.7 million remunerated full-time equivalent (FTE) workers, nearly 10% were between 15 and 24 years of age. The average annual number of injuries for this age group was approximately 13,000, representing 14% of all compensated time-loss injuries. One of the priorities identified in the CNESST’s 2010–2014 strategic plan was decreasing the number of injuries among young workers ages 24 and under.

During the same period, the average annual number of TLIs among individuals ages 55 and over was 10,437, representing 11.3% of all injuries. The average duration of benefit payments for the same age group was 135 days, which is clearly higher than the average duration of benefit payments recorded for the entire Québec labour force (88 days).

In the current socioeconomic context, experts anticipate a trend toward aging workers staying in the labour force. Based on demographic changes, it is estimated that the population between ages 15 and 64, which still makes up the core of the labour force, will stop growing and even start shrinking as of 2013. From 2014 to 2018, 40% of the growth in the labour force will be attributable to the fact that persons ages 65 and over are continuing to work or returning to work.

Small enterprises of 50 workers or fewer are at the heart of the Canadian and Québec economies. According to Statistics Canada, in 2010, 34% of jobs in Québec and 31% of those in Canada were in small enterprises. 1 Small enterprises constituted 95% of employer establishments in both Québec and Canada in 2009 . According to the figures compiled in the Québec Survey on Working and Employment Conditions and Occupational Health and Safety, 45.3% of the labour force is employed by small enterprises employing 50 or fewer workers.

Between 2004 and 2006, the average annual number of TLIs was 94,550, of which slightly more than one third occurred in small enterprises. The average duration of benefit payments was 81% longer in small enterprises than in medium-sized and large enterprises. For the same period, the frequency-duration ratio of injuries was twice as high in small enterprises as in medium-sized and large enterprises.

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Scientifics of this field

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