Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) mainly comprise:

  • work related upper limb disorders (WRULDs) from repetitive tasks 
  • back injuries from repetitive or awkward lifting.

WRULDs are chronic (persistent) injuries such as tenosynovitis and carpal tunnel syndrome and result from repetitive tasks such as on production lines. WRULDs account for around 23% of cases of occupational ill health in food and drink manufacture.

Chronic back pain can result from repetitive or awkward lifting (e.g. on packing lines, production lines) and account for around 35% of cases of occupational ill health in food and drink manufacture.

Main causes of musculoskeletal injury

In the food and drink industries, most musculoskeletal injuries arise from just 5 causes:

  • cutting, boning, jointing, trussing and evisceration (such as meat and poultry)
  • packing products (such as cheese, confectionery and biscuits)
  • stacking/unstacking containers (such as boxes, crates and sacks)
  • handling drinks containers (such as delivery of casks, kegs and crates)
  • pushing wheeled racks (such as oven racks and trolleys of produce)

These are key tasks to which attention should be paid when carrying out risk assessments.

How do we know if we have a problem?

Injury and health problems show up in different ways, such as:

  • cases of injury to backs and limbs
  • aches and pains
  • poor product quality
  • high material waste
  • low output
  • frequent worker complaints and rest stops
  • do-it-yourself improvements to work stations and tools (e.g. seat padding)
  • workers wearing bandages, splints, rub-ons, copper bracelets or magnets.

If you have a problem it will be costing money from sickness absence, high staff turnover, retraining, loss of production etc.. 

Managing the risk

  • Identify which tasks present a serious risk of chronic injury (e.g. from repetitive upper body work or frequent bending)
  • Assess these tasks in detail to decide what factors lead to the risk
  • Introduce mechanisation where this is reasonably practicable, e.g. automation, bulk handling, vacuum lifters 
  • Where mechanisation is not possible, introduce measures to prevent injury, e.g. improved ergonomic design of work stations and work areas, job rotation, training, medical surveillance, job transfer
  • Consult fully with trade union safety representatives or other employee representatives and workers to ensure effective and workable solutions to problems.

Further guidance

HSG196 - Moving food and drink - Manual handling solutions for the food and drink industries (100 case studies) 

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Updated 2023-06-15