How to Avoid MSD’s at Work

Musculoskeletal disorders or MSDs are the biggest health and safety risk for workers in the UK with more than a million cases reported each year.

Figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that MSDs and related injuries cost society more than £5.7 billion.

The term MSD covers a range of injuries including Back Pain, problems with joints and Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI).

The most worrying thing about MSDs is that it can affect workers in almost every occupation and prove a terrible problem for the individuals involved as well as their employers.

However, there are plenty of ways of reducing the risks in the workplace and lots of techniques for avoiding MSDs.

What Are MSDs?

One of the most common causes of pain and suffering for British workers, Musculoskeletal disorders can affect the muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves and other soft tissues.

Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Back problems.
  • Pains in the neck, arms and shoulders.
  • Sore joints.

Not all MSDs are preventable but the Health and Safety Commission is hoping to reduce the number of working days lost to the problem through prevention and rehabilitation.

What Causes MSDs?

Musculoskeletal disorders can affect a huge range of workers from office staff using computers to people lifting heavy goods.

Some of the main causes of MSDs include:

  • Excessive Vibration.
  • Heavy lifting.
  • Repetitive tasks, using the same muscles over and over again.
  • Poor posture.
  • Lifting things incorrectly.
  • Poorly designed work areas.
  • Pushing or pulling heavy loads.

Preventing MSDs

Not all musculoskeletal disorders are preventable but there is plenty of advice on how to reduce the risk of becoming injured. There are plenty of things you can do to minimise or reduce the risk of MSDs but you should also consider medical treatment or rehabilitation if the problem is already advanced.

Risk Assessments

Every workplace should carry out some sort of health and safety Risk Assessment to decide what problems you may encounter and how they can be managed. For most people this will cover any tasks that involve lifting, your immediate working environment and how you use any machinery.

If you have not had any advice or information in this area you should speak with your manager or union safety rep who will be able to tell you more about company policy. All employers are legal obliged to assess the risks facing workers and have a duty to identify hazards and safeguard your well being.

Back Pain

Almost everyone will suffer back pain at some point, but poor working practices can cause serious problems that lead to long-term injuries. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates that 4.9 million working days are lost because of back problems.

The prevention of back problems requires careful management but because it’s not always preventable you should always report any problems as early as possible and seek medical advice.

Medical experts advise people suffering from mild back pain to stay as active as possible because most problems will get better on their own.

The risks for your particular job should have been identified by the risk assessment but following the right procedures around lifting, posture and working patterns should reduce the risk.

Posture is very important so you should follow the correct guidelines for your particular workstation and take regular breaks.

Manual Handling

One of the main causes of MSDs is incorrect lifting and handling techniques. It’s believed that a third of all reported workplace injuries are caused by things like lifting, pulling, carrying and lowering.

The Heath and Safety Executive (HSE) has produced a series of official guidelines around Manual Handling that covers lifting, carrying and team handling operations. These materials are available from the HSE website (, although your company should also provided detailed advice if manual handling is part of your job.

A lot of the risk is dependant on the individual and the circumstances as there is no general weight limits that can be applied to everyone.

Legal regulations require businesses to properly manage any manual handling and reduce the risk of injury as much as possible.

Upper Limb Disorders (ULDs)

According to the HSE around 4.7 million working days were lost because of Musculoskeletal disorders to the upper limbs which were caused or made worse by work.

ULDs can usually be defined by pain in the neck, arms, hands, shoulders, wrists and cover a range of other recognised medical conditions such as RSI.

Many of these problems can be long-term or even permanent so it’s essential that you make sure you report any issues as early as possible.

Many of these conditions can be caused by using a poorly designed workstations or badly arranged PCs. Your employer has a legal duty to prevent work-related ULDs and stop existing conditions from getting worse.

There should be risk assessments in this area as well as some detailed information on how to set up your workstation properly in a way that reduces the risk of injury.

You should always notify your employer of any problems and try to work with them to reduce the risk of injury.

Last Updated on 25 May 2021

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