Development of a survey to explore workplace risk factors and hazards common to both musculoskeletal and psychological injury


Keywords: Musculoskeletal disorders; workplace perspectives; prevention; ergonomics; occupational health and safety

Timeline: 2021-2022

Researchers: Heather Johnston (Institute for Work and Health), Dwayne Van Eerd (Institute for Work and Health), Emma Irvin (Institute for Work and Health)

Funder: CRE-MSD

Project type: Seed grant

Sector/workplace type: All


Occupational Health & Safety professionals addressing musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) prevention must also consider relevant psychological risk factors. A better understanding of common risk factors can lead to better workplace prevention programs. This project will result in an instrument to measure risk factors common to both MSD and psychological injuries.

Objectives/research question

The objective of this research is to develop and pilot-test a survey instrument which will:

1) Determine the work-related risk factors and hazards common to both MSD and psychological injury outcomes in workplaces.

2) Evaluate the measurement properties of this survey instrument for use in surveillance and intervention research.


The instrument development process will be guided by methods described by Outcome Measures in Rheumatology (OMERACT) and the COSMIN Study Design Checklist. The steps will include: (1) Conceptual/Measurement model, (2) Validity (3) Reliability, and (4) Responsiveness/Worker Burden. The conceptual/measurement model will be based on previous surveys and tools for each of MSD and psychological risk factors from the literature and experts. We will ask OHS professionals to complete the newly developed instrument and participate in an interview to describe how they are answering each question. A subset will complete additional MSD and psychological instruments (Step2) or repeat the new survey after a short period of time (Step3) or repeat the new survey over time when change has occurred (Step4). We will also compare survey results from different individuals (Step3). In all cases of survey administration, we will use consistent workplace scenarios with known risk factors as determined by our conceptual model.

Research team roles

Dr. Heather Johnston, (ergonomics), will lead all aspects of the research and survey development.

Dr. Dwayne Van Eerd, (work and health), will assist in all aspects of the research and survey development.

Ms. Emma Irvin, (research operations), will assist with all aspects of the project and help facilitate knowledge transfer.

Collaboration and partnerships

We will engage with OHS professional stakeholders throughout the project by establishing an advisory committee who will aid in recruitment and interpretation of results. We will recruit OHS professionals from stakeholder networks to participate to ensure we develop a practical and feasible instrument for use in Ontario workplaces in all sectors.

Knowledge transfer strategies

We will adopt an integrated knowledge transfer and exchange (KTE) approach to engage with stakeholders throughout survey development. We will establish a stakeholder advisory committee of OHS stakeholders who have experience with both work-related MSD and psychological injuries. Upon completion of the testing and revision of the instrument a virtual workshop will be conducted and promoted to KTE partners with IWH stakeholder, ACE, and CRE-MSD. Once the instrument is fully developed it will be posted on the IWH website for free download and use. We also plan to produce a paper for peer-review publication.

Impacts and implications

OHS professionals are increasingly aware of the impact of psychosocial risk factors on MSD. The key outcome of the proposed research is a valid, reliable, and feasible survey instrument that can be used to examine common risk factors related to both workplace MSD and psychological injuries. An instrument that can help to identify the common risk factors will allow for a more efficient and complete risk assessment which will in turn lead to improved MSD prevention programs.