ErgoThe hardest part wasn’t the constant pain. It wasn’t the frustration of trying for years to switch jobs to prevent his repetitive strain injury from worsening. It wasn’t even the month without pay waiting for WSIB to come through.

“The hardest part was, I couldn’t pick up my daughter,” says Dan Pereira, a 10-year team member at the Cambridge South plant.

“We had to tell her she couldn’t jump on Daddy anymore,” he says of his 3-year old girl. “I couldn’t pick her up or anything.”

That’s when he finally decided, after years of massage therapy, acupuncture and more, to get carpel tunnel surgery on both wrists. In the dark humour that often comes with such things, Pereira returns to work this week with his “Toyota Badge of Honour” (his surgical scars) on full display.

Pereira’s experiences are a big part of why he supports joining Unifor. Having a union, he knows, would have helped when he was trying to move out of the repetitive work of installing wire harnesses.

When he finally got moved to engines, he was still put on wiring for much of the day, given his experience with the task. Wyatt Clark, a Unifor ergonomics coordinator in Windsor, says the best way to deal with repetitive injuries is to prevent them from happening in the first place.

“It’s important to eliminate problems before they even reach the plant floor,” he says.

The Unifor Toyota Charter, drawn up from surveys of Toyota Team members, addresses ergonomics head on, with a focus on having Unifor ergonomic representatives, like Clark, who can assist members on job-related ergonomic issues and work with the company to prevent injury.

“There’s a lot of what-ifs when it comes to ergonomics,” says Clark, explaining the value of specialized knowledge and training around ergonomic issues. “There’s just a lot of knowledge that needs to be understood.”

And when prevention doesn’t work, Unifor representatives can assist team members in dealing with the company and WSIB around adequate time off, treatment protocols and a return to work that’s set up to prevent future injury.

Clark says the basic elements of a sound ergonomic policy include an emphasis on prevention – including working with the company to catch potential problems before a new model is introduced to the plant – and putting processes in place to deal with problems as they arise and sick leave and return to work.

The specifics of how that would work at Toyota would be determined in discussions with the company, he said, with Toyota team members sitting down with the company to figure out what works best in its plants.

There’s no one way to do this, Clark said. Any workable solution needs to be tailored to the specific workplace.