The law on musculoskeletal disorders at work
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) include injuries and conditions that can affect the back, joints and limbs. There are several laws relating to MSDs at work. Employers and workers both have responsibilities.
Employers must protect the health and safety of their workers and other people who might be affected by what they do, under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations require employers to assess the risks to the health and safety of their workers. The assessment may identify risks covered by other regulations relevant to MSDs in the workplace and you should also comply with those regulations. The main ones are listed below. If you work within specific industries, other laws may apply too.
The Manual Handling Operations Regulations require employers to carry out a risk assessment on all manual handling tasks that pose an injury risk. Employers must:
- avoid hazardous manual handling, so far as is reasonably practicable
- assess the risk of injury from any hazardous manual handling operations that cannot be avoided
- reduce the risk of injury from hazardous manual handling to as low as reasonably practicable
The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations set out what employers should do if their workers are habitual users of display screen equipment, including:
- do a DSE workstation assessment
- reduce risks, including making sure workers take breaks from DSE work or do something different
- provide an eye test if a worker asks for one
- provide training and information for workers
The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations require employers to protect workers against risk from exposure to vibration at work. Regular long-term exposure to whole-body vibration (WBV), for example from driving mobile machines over rough ground, is associated with back pain. Powered hand-held tools, for example, can cause hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS).
The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations cover a wide range of basic health, safety and welfare issues, including lighting, floors, workstations and seating. They apply to most workplaces.
Under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act workers must:
- take reasonable care of their own health and safety and that of others affected by their work
- co-operate with their employer so they can comply with their health and safety duties
In addition, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations require workers to make use of equipment their employer has provided for them, in accordance with their training and the instructions their employer has given them.
The Manual Handling Operations Regulations supplement these general duties in the case of manual handling. They require workers to follow systems of work established by their employer to reduce the risk of injury from handling loads.