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

Analysis of the handling activities of day workers in a large Québec municipality: a tool for addressing handling’s changing character


One characteristic of the great majority of handling activities is that they are changing, with, in many cases, the simple handling tasks (i.e., limited in space, location and time) having been automated in companies. Worker-assigned handling tasks are more complex and require the handling of varied loads, in diverse and changing work contexts that require constant adjustments. This changing aspect is sometimes difficult for a preventionist who is not a handling specialist to understand. This is true for a large majority of occupational health and safety (OHS) preventionists who have generalist profiles and are therefore asked to handle a wide range of occupational activities and occupational health issues. Standardized diagnostic tools are poorly suited to the analysis of such varied and fluctuating tasks.

In the context of developing a new handling training program, a handling context analysis grid (HCAG) was produced to help preventionists collect relevant information and thus better deal with this changing aspect of handling. This tool does not pretend to yield a complete picture of one or more handling tasks, as would an ergonomic diagnosis, but rather identifies a few dominant and representative aspects of these tasks so that a preventionist can orient a specific action plan, particularly to establish the framework of the training content.

In parallel with a request to accompany a large Québec municipality claiming OHS problems—mostly musculoskeletal in nature—linked to the numerous handling tasks performed by day workers, the HCAG was tested. A classical ergonomic diagnosis was done first, involving an analysis of the accidents (n=478), interviews (n=13) and observations of the work activity (n=16 handling situations). The HCAG was then used by five division heads in the municipality, and their comments were collected. The results obtained were compared to the more complete results of the ergonomic diagnosis. As a complement, a classification aiming to describe four types of handler-load systems was also tested to determine the relevance of integrating this aspect—up until then disregarded—into the HCAG.

The ergonomic diagnosis identified 21 problem situations, most of which were the subject of a solution-finding process in collaboration with the municipal authorities. The study clearly identified the HCAG's application limitations and the aspects on which we will have to focus to facilitate its appropriate use. While its application requires a certain level of expertise, a few minor adjustments are necessary to maximize its potential for use by a wide range of users. The classification of the handler-load systems proved operational and sufficiently relevant to be included in a new version of the HCAG.

One observation from this study is that it is not so much the collection of data that raises difficulties, as the interpretation and formatting of these data to orient action in workplaces. In this sense, we suggest that an integrating model be developed to facilitate the sharing and interpretation of the information collected. The main qualities desired for such a model are stated in the discussion, and an exploratory attempt at modeling is proposed.

Additional Information

Category: Research Report
  • Denys Denis
  • Marie St-Vincent
  • Monique Lortie
  • Maud Gonella
  • Marie-Hélène Dion
Research Project: 0099-8550
Online since: August 24, 2011
Format: Text