MARCH 2016                                                             FRANÇAIS


Picture this: you are tasked with moving a few boxes from the ground beside you onto a shelf in front of you. There are ten boxes in total, each weighing 20 to 25 pounds. With each one, you twist to the left, bend over at the waist, pick up a box, straighten, face forward, and lift the box onto a shelf that's slightly higher than your shoulders - at chin level. You decide to move all ten boxes without taking a break; after all, your supervisor has other tasks for you after this one and you don't want to leave anything unfinished.

When you return home that evening, your sides are sore, your wrists, arms, and shoulders ache, and you feel a twinge of pain in your back. You are suffering from overexertion - specifically, overexertion while lifting - and if this is something you do frequently, it could lead to tendonitis in the wrist as well as neck and shoulder strain.

Overexertion is the number one cause of sprain and strain injuries in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut: in 2015, overexertion while lifting accounted for 18.43% of all sprain and strain injuries. Overexertion can happen when we use too much force in our actions, or engage in awkward or repetitive movements. Repeatedly bending at the waist (instead of at the knees), lifting items that may be too heavy for you, and twisting and reaching to place objects at an unnatural height - these are classic movements that lead to overexertion, which in turn can lead to sprain and strain injuries.

Everyone is at risk - construction workers, retail workers, office employees - because no matter the job, there will inevitably be some movements that are awkward, repetitive, and not necessarily healthy for our body if pushed too far.


We already gave you a glimpse of what was wrong in the example shown above, but there are multiple ways to injure ourselves through overexertion. Workplace overexertion can happen as a result of exerting too much physical effort, and it can happen with any of the following movements:
  • Lifting
  • Turning
  • Lowering
  • Carrying
  • Pushing
  • Pulling
Furthermore, there are conditions we find ourselves in while at work that can put us at increased risk, such as:
  • A repetitive job: Performing the same actions over and over will not allow your muscles time to recover between tasks.
  • Awkward or poor postures: A job that forces your body into awkward postures can increase the stress on your muscles and joints. Even a light load in an awkward posture can lead to injury.
  • A cold environment: When your body is cold, your muscles do not have a good supply of blood, increasing your likelihood of overexertion injuries.
  • Tiredness: When your body is tired, it can no longer support the physical task and is working beyond its physical capacity. Overexertion can occur when the physical forces required for the task exceeds what our body can handle.
  • Lack of training: When workers are not properly trained, they may overexert themselves performing tasks without advanced knowledge of safety procedures.
  • Lack of ergonomics in the workplace: When tasks are not ergonomically designed, workers are at increased risk for overexertion injuries.
Did you know that overexertion can even happen when your job does not require movement? If you are constantly sitting while absorbing vibrations through your body - as long-haul truck drivers do - you are essentially keeping yourself in an awkward position while your muscles repeatedly feel the strain from vibrations.


Overexertion most often leads to back and shoulder injuries, but can lead to sprain and strain injuries in other areas of the body. Various musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) can result from an overexertion injury. As mentioned above, some workers can develop tendonitis in the wrist, while others might develop carpal tunnel syndrome, rotator cuff injuries (affecting the shoulder), and lower back injuries. In all areas where overexertion has occurred, your body may also exhibit pain, swelling, or soreness.

While it is universal that we often overestimate how much we can lift, it's important to note that each person has a different physical limit at which overexertion will occur. Determining what is considered excessive physical force for each worker is what makes overexertion such a tough issue for employers to tackle. However, by gaining a better understanding of why overexertion happens and learning the steps we should take to reduce or prevent it from happening, workers and employers can take the necessary precautions to reduce overexertion risks.


As a worker:
  1. Assess your job. Is it physically demanding? If so, do you work within a team, with individuals who can support you with physical tasks? Do you have manual or mechanical lifting devices at your disposal?
  2. Communicate with your employer. It is important to speak up if you do not have the proper training to safely do your job, or the assistance from fellow coworkers or machinery if your job is physically taxing.
  3. Ask for an ergonomic assessment. If you work in an office setting, you too may find yourself in awkward or poor postures for long periods of time. From the height of your chair, to the position of your computer monitor, keyboard, and mouse, proper ergonomics goes a long way to reducing strain on your body.
  4. Do warm-up exercises. Just as you would prepare your body before a run or a workout, so too should you ready your body for any task that requires physical effort. Your muscles will be better prepared to work after a few warm-up and stretching exercises that increases blood flow and maximizes the range of motion for your muscles and tendons.
  5. Limit the weight. Assess the load you need to move, and reduce the weight you lift, carry, push, or pull. Do not carry too much at once.
  6. Use proper lifting techniques. Place objects as close to your body as possible to avoid over-reaching. Keep your body positioned square to your work, your back as straight as possible, and bend at the knees, lifting with your legs. Rotate your full body instead of twisting at the waist. Do not carry objects higher than chest level.
  7. Rest and Recover. Taking short breaks when tasked with repetitive work will allow your muscles time to rest and recover. If possible, switch up your tasks so that your body can use different muscles. Ensure that you stay fed and hydrated: drinking enough water and eating throughout the day will help your body avoid overexertion.
  8. Ask for help. If you encounter a physically challenging or awkward task, ask for help from your coworkers. They can assist you with your task, or may even have suggestions for better ways to do the job.
  9. Use mechanical lifting devices and other tools. If the load is too heavy, use mechanical lift assists, overhead hoists, carts, forklifts, or other tools. Ensure that you are trained before operating any machinery.
  10. Practice tool maintenance. Use the proper tool for the job, and take proper care of your tools once you are finished with them. Keeping tools and machines in good working order prevents workers from overcompensating for tools that are too worn, broken, or not designed for the task.
  11. Sleep. At the end of the day, getting a good night's sleep is key to preventing overexertion. Fatigue can weaken your body and make it more susceptible to overexertion. Productivity will also increase if you feel refreshed at the start of each day.
  12. Report, report, report - as early as possible. It's your job to watch out not only for yourself, but also for the wellbeing of your coworkers. If you witness a fellow worker overexerting themselves and at risk for possible injury, speak to them and your employer about ways to alleviate the physical strain of the task. If you find yourself suffering from an overexertion injury, report it as soon as possible to your supervisor.
  13. Return to work and work to recover. If you are injured, time off from work may not necessarily be the best course of action for you. Speak with your healthcare provider and your employer about modified duties that will assist in your recovery.
As an employer:
  1. Identify problems. Identify all of the tasks your workers perform that could result in shoulder, back, or other overexertion-related injuries. Modify the work environment or change the way tasks are performed in order to reduce the need for awkward movements and positions. Store heavier goods on lower shelves to reduce the need for overreaching. Reduce the depth of your shelves and place regularly-needed objects closer to the edge of the shelf to make it easier to retrieve.
  2. Be clear in the job description. When hiring new employees, ensure you outline any lifting or physical requirements in the job description.
  3. Provide mechanical assistance, but provide training. Make sure your workers have the proper tools with which to handle physically challenging tasks. Manual and mechanical lifting devices such as carts, dollies, forklifts, hand trucks, and skid-steer loaders can assist workers with heavier loads and reduce their risks of overexertion. However, ensure that any employees tasked with handling these devices have the proper training to properly use and operate them.
  4. Enforce safety procedures. Prohibit workers from lifting or carrying loads that weigh 50 lbs. or more to reduce their risk for a serious back injury. Require workers to use lifting devices or get assistance from a fellow worker.
  5. Schedule breaks into the work day. By requiring your workers to take frequent short breaks throughout the day, you can reduce their chances of experiencing muscle fatigue and eventual overexertion, and overall increase productivity.
  6. Encourage early reporting. Early reporting of work-related overexertion injuries can assist with job assessment and improvement and in some cases can reduce the severity of overexertion symptoms and injuries before they develop further.
  7. Ensure you have a Return to Work program in place. Offering your workers a Return to Work program can allow them the option of modified or alternative duties, and help them work to recover. For further assistance, please call 1-800-661-0792 and ask to speak with our Return to Work Specialist.
As with all other workplace injuries we've explored in SafetyNet recently, overexertion is preventable. For more information, visit or for our Codes of Practice, Safety Bulletins, Hazard Alerts, and Posters.


Employers, please take note when making payments: to ensure your ongoing security, the WSCC will no longer retain your credit card information from previous payments. Please go to WSCC Connect to easily and securely make your upcoming payments. Visa, MasterCard, Discover, Debit Visa, and Debit MasterCard are all accepted at WSCC Connect.

To make a credit card payment through WSCC Connect:
  1. Go to or
  2. Click on WSCC Connect.
  3. Click on Make a Payment.
If you do not have internet access and would like to pay by credit card, please call 1-800-661-0792 and ask to speak to our Payment Officer. We are available to you from Monday to Friday, 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM MST.

We are here to help you avoid a lapse in payment and subsequent penalty situation. Visit WSCC Connect today.

If you have any questions or feedback for us, send us an email at or

This information will soon be available in Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun on our website.   /  1.800.661.0792   *  /  1.877.404.4407