Wounded Workers: The Politics of Musculoskeletal Injuries


255 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-7795-1
DDC 363.11





Reviewed by Dave Bennett

David Bennett is the national director of the Department of Workplace Health, Safety and Environment at the Canadian Labour Congress in Ottawa.


Penney Kome has produced a wide-ranging and well-researched study of
musculoskeletal injury among workers in North America, an epidemic
little known to the general public. Musculoskeletal injury is injury to
the neck, shoulders, arms, and hands.

About a third of all occupational injuries are related to the design of
work, workstations, and work operations; if lower-back injury is
included, the figure rises to 50 percent. While keyboards are an
important factor, the chief culprits in this epidemic are design flaws
in manufacturing, processing, assembly, packaging, and transport, the
service sector included. The shift in the pattern of industrial disease,
which predominantly afflicts women workers, has been termed the Third
Industrial Revolution.

Kome focuses on the work of trade unions, the role of government with
respect to prevention, the compensation system, the role of social
activism, and individual solutions. Her account is comprehensive but not
without some serious mistakes. For example, she states that Canada,
unlike the United States, has no federal jurisdiction or authority over
health and safety. Not so: the federal jurisdiction is in fact the
fourth largest in the country.

Elsewhere Kome demands that risk assessment, a technique for evaluating
workplace hazards, be applied to musculoskeletal injuries. The trouble
is that risk assessment is a conservative technique that attacks
problems only at the margins. So pervasive is the technique that it has
been enshrined in global free-trade agreements, making it virtually
impossible for governments to pursue precautionary policies relating to
a wide range of environmental health issues. Applying an abstract
technique like risk assessment to job design would not even identify the
problems, much less quantify them. Fortunately, the author gives us
plenty of other constructive and effective approaches to workplace


Kome, Penney., “Wounded Workers: The Politics of Musculoskeletal Injuries,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 24, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/3526.