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. Common health and safety issues which present a risk for injuries are MSD from manual handling, exposure to vibration, and dealing with heavy loads. Our guide looks at what MSD’s are, and how risks to workers can be reduced.

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 job. It can also prove a problem for the staff 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, MSD stands for Musculoskeletal disorders. These work related injuries or disorders affect joints, muscles, tendons, cartilage, nerves and spinal discs.

Some of the most common symptoms of MSD include:

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

Not all MSDs can be avoided. However, 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. They can be caused in the workplace by many different things. These risks can be present in the work environment on a daily basis.

Some of the main causes of MSDs at work include:

Preventing MSDs

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

Risk Assessments

Every workplace should carry out a health and safety Risk Assessment to decide what risks may be present. They should then look at how they can be managed. For most people, this will cover any tasks that involve lifting, your working environment and how you use any machinery.

If you haven’t 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 obliged to assess the risks facing workers and have a duty to identify common workplace risks and safeguard your well being.

Back Pain

Almost everyone will suffer back pain at some point. However, 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. However, 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. This is because most problems will get better on their own.

The risks for your job should have been identified by the risk assessment. 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 workstation and take regular breaks.

Manual Handling and MSD

One of the main causes of MSDs is poor 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 official guidelines around Manual Handling. These should cover lifting, carrying and team handling operations. These guides are available from the HSE website ( However, your company should also provided good advice if manual handling is part of your job.

A lot of the risk is dependant on the job role and the types of objects being lifted. There are no general weight limits that can be applied to everyone.

UK Laws require businesses to properly manage any manual handling and reduce the risk of injury as much as possible. They also require appropriate manual handling training to be delivered to all staff.

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. They also cover a range of other recognised medical conditions such as RSI.

Many of these issues can be long-term or even permanent. For this reason, 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.

Further Reading

Our guide on how to avoid RSI at work looks at common risk factors, as well as solutions to help avoid repetitive strain injuries.

7 thoughts on “How to Avoid MSD’s at Work

  1. mart29444 says:

    Can my employer give every weekend off to some of the staff and not the others even tho we are all on the same contract but work in different departments. Also allow some of the employees to take holidays over christmas depending which department you are working in

    • Safe Workers says:

      @mart29444 – In many businesses some departments will need weekend cover while others do not. If you were taken on to work in a specific department and knew that weekend work would be required (and this is stated in your contract) then there’s little you can do – except apply for a job in another department.

  2. saa says:

    hi my husband just started his new emplyment in june 2015 and is on probation period he is on a bonus work so have a target to do each day, while he was working he injured his wrist as the work relates to a lot of folding when he went to see the gp he was told to rest the arm or go on sick for 2 weeks as he was told he has something called de quervains tenosynovits and needs rest but my husband carried on working and got worse was afraid to tell the manager, when he told the manager they moved him to another department for 2 weeks until he recovered, the swelling is still there but was told start work again on the bonus as he was on his probation period this week what can we do as my husband has joined the union too can they help, please please let us know looking forward to hearing from you soon ..

  3. Rosey says:

    Hi. Can anyone offer some guidance. My employer expects us to work 110% of target every month which I had always exceeded , they then decided to pay us for anything over this rather than overtime. so if you were 165% (probably done outside of normal hours) you would get £1250, however they might not pay this if you then were quality checked on the months before this work and had 5% fails so 95passes. Therefore someone who did 100% of target could be paid the same as someone who did excess of this but had a fail, as it on a cases point basis 24 points away is expected each day even on holiday or sick, Financial services case checking for compliance, where sometimes things are missed or not fully clear. And this is at management disceation to not pay even if not 5% if you get passed with comments, approx 15%. None of this is in contract. This all seems unethical and totally random as all seem to have different numbers checked some 2 others 20.

  4. anne says:

    I use a computer at work for ordering, and I use a stool as the height makes it more comfortable when entering data. My employee has now taken the stool away due to a fire gangway. I am experiencing strain in my neck while working now. Can this lead to anything in the future if i continue to have this.

    • Safe Workers says:

      @anne – The Health and Safety at Work Act imposes a duty on employers to prevent disorders resulting from poor positioning of equipment etc. Ask to see the risk assessment and health & safety policy – and inform them of your neck pain. If they can relocate your computer so it’s not in a fire gangway then that would be the ideal solutions. Have you tried suggesting this?

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