Musculoskeletal disorders at work
Employers must protect workers from the risks of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) being caused or made worse by work. MSDs include injuries and conditions that can affect the back, joints and limbs. You:
- can do things to prevent or minimise the risk of your workers (and others who may be affected by what they do) developing MSDs
- cannot prevent all MSDs, so early reporting of symptoms, proper treatment and suitable rehabilitation are essential
The parts of the body most likely to be affected by MSDs are:
- the lower back
- shoulders, forearms, wrists and hands, as well as the neck
- the hips, legs, knees, ankles and feet
Workers can have different kinds of MSDs at the same time.
Manage the risk
You must manage the risk of MSDs in your workplace. If these risks exist, you must consider both the requirements for a general risk assessment and specific assessments of other risks, for example, from:
- manual handling
- repetitive work and awkward postures
- the health risks of working with display screen equipment such as PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones
- exposure to vibration, for example from driving mobile machinery over rough ground or using powered, hand-held tools
Causes of musculoskeletal disorders
There are risk factors causing MSDs in many types of work, so you should think about the risks of various tasks, depending on the work you do:
- bending, crouching or stooping
- lifting heavy or bulky loads
- pushing, pulling or dragging heavy loads
- stretching, twisting and reaching
- repetitive work, particularly using the same hand or arm action
- sustained or excessive force
- carrying out a task for a long time
- work with display screen equipment
- working with hand-held power tools for a long time
- driving heavy vehicles, long-distance driving or driving over rough ground
Or the risk factors can be to do with the work environment or organisation:
- poor working environment (including temperature and lighting)
- poor work organisation (including work pressure, job demands and lack of work breaks). Stress and other psychosocial factors can contribute to the risk of developing MSDs
Or they can be to do with the workers themselves:
- a recent or existing injury or health condition may make them more vulnerable
- individual differences (some workers are more affected by certain risks)
- vulnerable groups, for example, young people, disabled workers, pregnant workers, those new to the job
- working beyond their capability
- working when physically tired
Talk to your workers
You must consult with your workers or their elected representatives on health and safety issues. They know what they find difficult and often know how to improve things. Talking to them about how to improve health and safety will also make it easier to agree changes. Workers will be more likely to follow procedures they have helped design.
Make sure your workers know how to report any injuries or work-related health problems to you or their health and safety representative. Encourage them to do this early. Body mapping may help with this. This is a technique you can use to collect evidence about the effects of work on the body. You can use it to:
- identify clusters of problems you may need to investigate further
- encourage workers to think about solutions to the problems they report
An occupational health provider can give advice on a worker’s fitness for work and any restrictions or adaptations to their work.
People with MSDs usually recover completely if the problem is recognised early and treated appropriately.
There are several laws relating to musculoskeletal disorders (other laws may also apply in your industry).
Musculoskeletal disorders in specific industries
For more details about controlling MSDs in particular industries, look at their web pages. The industries with the most reported incidents of MSDs are agriculture, construction, health and social care and transport and logistics. There is also specific information on MSDs in, for example food and drink handling and MSDs in food and drink, catering, woodworking, motor vehicle repair, cleaning, air transport, ports and docks, printing, textiles and waste and recycling.