Advice for workers with musculoskeletal disorders
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) include injuries and conditions that can affect the back, joints and limbs. Your employer must protect you from the risks of MSDs at work. They must do something if you have a musculoskeletal disorder caused or made worse by work.
If you think you may be suffering from an MSD caused by your work, there are things you can do to help yourself and help your employer to help you.
What to do if you have symptoms
If you have any symptoms, such as back pain, report these as soon as possible to your manager, supervisor, health and safety representative or other worker representative because:
- there could be help available, if you don't get help, some problems may become long-term
- your employer can assess whether there is a problem in the workplace and may want to observe your job
- other workers may have similar issues and, unless you tell someone, your employer may not realise there is a problem
People with MSDs usually completely recover if the problem is treated early.
What your employer should do
Once your employer knows about a health and safety problem in your workplace, they can do something to reduce the risk of the work making it worse. They can also reduce the chances of your problem coming back after you have recovered.
Your employer may need to make adaptations, for example to the:
- tools and equipment you use
- ways you work, such as rest breaks and the pace of the work
- work environment, such as the temperature or lighting
These changes may be permanent and apply to a group of workers. Or they may be temporary and specific to you while you have a problem or are recovering from your symptoms.
What you must do
You must follow any systems your employer has in place for your health and safety, for example to collect reports of symptoms. You must also use any equipment provided properly and let your employer know if you notice anything which could cause harm.
Causes of musculoskeletal disorders
There are risk factors causing MSDs in many types of work. They include risk factors to do with the work, like:
- lifting heavy or bulky loads
- pushing, pulling or dragging heavy loads
- bending, crouching or stooping
- stretching, twisting and reaching
- sustained or excessive force
- repetitive tasks, particularly using the same hand or arm action
- carrying out a task for a long time
- work with display screen equipment, such as PCs, laptops, tablets or smartphones
- 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 lack of space, temperature and lighting)
- poor work organisation (including workload, job demands and work breaks or lack of them)
Or they can be to do with individual workers:
- a recent or existing injury may make you more vulnerable
- individual differences (some workers are more affected by certain risks)
- working beyond your capacity
- working when physically tired
Your employer may be able to refer you to an occupational health provider for some advice. They can:
- assess symptoms and may diagnose a specific condition
- ask about work tasks to try and identify anything contributing to the problem
- provide fitness-to-work advice, including any restrictions or adaptations needed
- provide treatment recommendations, such as physiotherapy
If your workplace does not have this type of support, see your GP to explain your symptoms and the type of work that you do.
You can also contact these organisations
- Fit for Work for free, confidential and impartial work-related health advice to employers and employees
- Healthy Working Lives, the free Health for Work Adviceline in Scotland
- Healthy Working Wales, the free Health for Work Adviceline for Small Business in Wales