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

Mechanical and Physical Risk Prevention

Mechanical and Physical Risk Prevention

Every year, many workers are victims of work-related accidents (some of them serious or even fatal) or contract occupational diseases because they are exposed to numerous hazards posed by the machines they operate and their work environment. In terms of prevention, actions can be taken at the source, in the work environment, with workers themselves and by implementing collective protection measures to eliminate the risks. When measures cannot be put in place to eliminate or reduce risks at the source, workers can be required to use personal protective equipment.

The researchers in this field are specifically interested in assessing and reducing the physical and mechanical risks that can jeopardize workers’ health and safety, taking into account workers’ interaction with the machines around them and their work environment. The machines may be of the fixed or mobile industrial type or hand-held power tools.

The main physical risks include noise, hand-arm and whole-body vibration, and heat stress. The main mechanical risks include cuts, lacerations, needle punctures, crushing, and contact with machines, as well as falls from heights, slips, trips and falls on the same level, and trench cave-ins.

Research orientations

The activities conducted under the MPRP research field revolve around three main orientations:

  • Assessment of the mechanical and physical risks generated by machines or the work environment
  • Reduction of mechanical and physical risks
  • Taking the human factor into account in the evaluation and control of mechanical and physical risks

Research program

The Mechanical and Physical Risk Prevention (MPRP) research program is the result of in-depth reflection by members of the MPRP team, in conjunction with the Scientific Division and workplace partners, in line with the 2018-2022 five-year scientific and technical production plan, as well as the IRSST’s work of the past few years. Its aim is to find increasingly pertinent ways of addressing workplace themes. Twelve thematic programs are given priority:

The aim of this program is to conduct studies that will provide companies with robust, reliable tools for analyzing and evaluating machine-related risks.

The aims of this program are to gain insight into the problems related to equipment lockout, to study the components of a lockout program and the conditions conducive to its application in the workplace, and to determine alternative solutions when lockout cannot be applied.

This program is aimed at developing knowledge on the acoustic and vibratory performances of hand power tools and proposing ways to reduce their vibration and noise levels, ultimately to identify tool models with lower impact levels.

The aim of this program is to develop reliable, user-friendly methods and tools that can be transferred to workplaces to help them reduce worker exposure to noise by using acoustic barriers and materials. New noise-reduction technologies involving the use of innovative barriers and materials are also evaluated and created.

The aims of this program are to explore methods for evaluating the real protection provided by hearing protection devices in workplaces and to develop support tools for designing more effective and comfortable hearing protectors.

This program focuses on tools for selecting effective means of protection against trench cave-ins, and supporting the work of the review committee working on Québec’s Safety Code for the Construction Industry.

The aim of this program is to develop knowledge of the behaviour of materials in the presence of different types of hazards and of the impacts of using equipment on physiological functions, motor function, and comfort.

This program concerns the development and application of test methods for identifying the collective and personal protective equipment best adapted to different work environments, taking human factors into account. This research work is also intended to provide a basis for designing new products, defining selection criteria, and supporting the development of standards.

This program is aimed at identifying the design requirements and technical prerequisites needed to select boots/footwear offering the best slip resistance (grip) on outdoor surfaces, especially ice, snow or surfaces that are wet from winter rain, and for various types of work environments. Comfort-related aspects that may influence the risk of slips are also studied.

The aim of this thematic program is to generate comprehensive knowledge that will make it possible to provide workplaces with guides and clear recommendations regarding optimal use of alarm signals, whether generated by fixed alarms or reverse (back-up) alarms on moving vehicles or structures.

The aim of this program is to design methods and tools that will help companies implement and use collaborative robots (cobots) in the workplace both safely and efficiently. It has two components, each associated with a specific phase of implementation: the preparatory analysis needed for safe equipment operation and the integration of risk reduction measures.

This program examines the safety of maintenance operations from the perspective of alternative methods to lockout. Its aims are to identify and validate alternative methods to lockout in order to ensure worker safety.

The aim of this thematic program is to make support tools available for selecting the most suitably adapted seats in order to reduce worker exposure to whole-body vibrations in various categories of vehicle. Given that the vibratory environment found in several vehicule categories is created by vibrations coming simultaneously from several directions, it will be proposed to continue developing this research component by taking multi-axis vibrations into account.

Concrete results

Awareness-Raising Document

Reverse alarms on trucks

Three types of reverse (back-up) alarms designed to ensure worker safety behind heavy vehicles were evaluated. A video was produced in French and English on the particular features and advantages of a new type of alarm (known as a broadband alarm) compared to conventional alarms.

alarmes de recul

Technical Document

Guide – Safeguarding of hydraulic power press brakes

A guide was produced specifically to inform companies the means available for safeguarding hydraulic power presses, mainly the risk of the operator being pinched and crushed between the dies. This guide focuses on two recent means of protection: the safety light curtain and the laser beam device.

Sécurisation des presses plieuses hydrauliques

Computer-Based Tool

Directory of safety devices for industrial machines

Accessible online, this directory facilitates access to information for Québec purchasers of these devices, machine and process designers, as well as OHS practitioners.

dispositifs de sécurité des machines

Technical Document

Anchoring system for guardrails on flat roofs

A prevention fact sheet (in French only) was produced to ensure adequate protection for roofers against falls from heights. It details the results of the IRSST’s research on the characteristics of the anchoring systems used for three models of guardrails.

chutes de hauteur

Intervention Tool

Risk management – confined space

A tool for analyzing and managing risks associated with confined space interventions. The e-tool CLOSE enables people qualified for risk management with respect to confined space work to take into consideration the main potential hazards.


Technical Document

Slips and falls outdoors

An information pamphlet presenting the steps to follow to choose occupational footwear offering good grip as well as adequate protection against other hazards is now available.

Right shoes prevents slip fall

Computer-Based Tool

Horizontal lifeline system (HLLS)

A tool for designing horizontal lifeline systems (HLLSs) is available online. It provides a user-friendly way of calculating tension in the cable, its deflection at fall arrest, and the clearance required in relation to the cable.

assurance horizontale

Awareness-Raising Document

Preventing falls overboard

A video and a technical fact sheet present prevention practices and strategies, as well as tricks of the trade, developed by professional lobster fishers for preventing falls overboard.

Preventing falls overboard

Technical Document

Safe blow guns

A technical guide was designed to help buyers choose a safe, efficient blow gun.

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