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FAQs - General

What is a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD)?

Answer: MSD is a broad umbrella label for many types of aches and pains, and treatment is determined by the exact medical diagnosis. They fall largely into three types:

Most cases can be satisfactorily dealt with by your Doctor/GP. There are other alternative methods of treatment – such as through physiotherapists, chiropractors and osteopaths – that can be helpful in the assessment and treatment of these disorders.

They are not always caused by work but they are often aggravated by the work we do; where this is the case there is a requirement for an employer to assess the cause and take remedial action.

What industries have the highest prevalence of MSDs?

Answer: Risk factors causing MSDs can be found in virtually every workplace, from sectors such as waste and recycling, public administration, finance, Agriculture, Health Services, Construction and Haulage.

Check the HSE website -  Statistics

Are MSDs reportable under RIDDOR?

Answer: Check the HSE website for the most up-to-date advice on - RIDDOR

What precautionary measures can an employer take?

Answer: There are a variety of precautionary measures an employer can take to reduce the risk of MSDs. The appropriate control measures can depend upon the sort of work your employees do and what is 'reasonably practicable'. The first step is to assess all of the MSD risks that the tasks generate. Next, try to eliminate as many of them as possible by redesigning the tasks, providing mechanical aids, introducing breaks or job rotation. When considering the risks, potential precautionary measures and solutions, ensure you consult your workforce as they often have first hand knowledge of the risks associated with specific tasks. Once the precautionary measures have been introduced, you should monitor their effectiveness and ensure these measures have not introduced new risks. HSE has produced a number of publications that provide potential solutions that may help with your choice of precautionary measure, some of which are industry-specific.

Check the HSE website - MSD Guidance

What is a risk assessment?

Answer: A risk assessment is a careful examination of what could cause harm to people in the workplace. Doing a risk assessment will help employers identify and target any significant risks in their workplace. A good risk assessment will help avoid accidents and ill health

Check the HSE website - Risk

What more can I do if assessments have been carried out but workers are still complaining?

Answer: When you implement control measures to reduce the risk of MSDs, it can often take some time for the changes to take effect and for the employee to notice symptoms have subsided. Monitoring the effects of control measures is therefore very important. Working with the employee to identify the aspects of the job which cause or aggravate their complaints allows the condition to be managed. Gathering information about symptoms over a period of time may help to identify whether the situation is improving or deteriorating. Questionnaires using body maps can also be used to track how the region of discomfort varies and the intensity of pain changes. Also non-work activities, such as sports, hobbies or domestic activities may contain similar risks to those found in the workplace and, unless these are also controlled, the problem could persist.

There are manual handling issues in my workplace but nobody ever reports them, what should we be doing?

Answer: Reporting accidents and ill health is a legal requirement. HSE's RIDDOR website provides more information. Workers should be encouraged to report injuries. An accurate record of accidents and ill health enables an analysis to be undertaken and preventive measures put in place.

It may also help to speak to your Union Safety Representative or employee representative.

Would a training course help sort out bad practice in manual handling in my workplace?

Answer: Although training can be important in raising awareness and reducing risk, it should not be assumed that the training alone will ensure safe manual handling. It should be supplemented with monitoring and reviews of procedures to ensure both that the training is understood and being applied. The need to report problems, whether they are unsafe working conditions or accidents, will need to be reinforced by good supervision. An employer has a legal obligation under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to ensure that employees are provided with health and safety information and training.

HSE does not advocate any particular company or training scheme in relation to health and safety training. There is no accreditation scheme.

Our organisation is desperate to improve the way it handles MSDs - What information/guidance can you provide?

Answer: Employers do have duties set out in the Manual Handling Operations Regulations and the Display Screen Equipment Regulations. Employers also have duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act to protect the health of their workers.

Research has identified six key areas needed for a successful intervention to deal with MSDs at work:

HSE guidance and advice is deliberately not prescriptive - it offers employers and workers the opportunity to adopt an approach that suits the risks facing them in their workplace. The links below will take you to sources of additional advice. The case studies explain how others have tackled their issues and these may give you ideas for solutions that will work for your organisation. Whatever steps you take and solutions you put in place, you should review and monitor them, to make sure they are working for your organisation and change them where necessary

Updated 2016-09-07