Did you know that musculoskeletal disorders, also known as MSDs, are one of the biggest health and safety risks for employees in the UK? There are over one million cases of MSD reported throughout the country every year. These injuries are also an expense for the economy, costing the UK approximately £5.7 billion, according to the most recent figures from the Health and Safety Executive.

This term refers to many different injuries, including back pain, joint problems and repetitive strain injuries. One of the main problems with MSDs is that it causes harm to workers in so many different types of industries – which makes it difficult to enforce legislations and guidelines for avoiding these problems.

What are the Symptoms of MSDs?

A typical musculoskeletal disorder can affect the nerves, ligaments, tendons and muscles of the body. Usually, the main symptoms of this type of problem include back problems, sore joints and pains in the shoulders, arms and neck. Sometimes this can be a mild pain, whereas in other cases the pain can be so severe that it necessitates time off from work and affects your daily routine and your quality of life.

Common Causes of MSDs

Musculoskeletal disorders affect workers in a wide range of industries, from office workers to warehouse staff, so there are many factors involved. However, here are some of the main causes of MSDs:

  • Vibration – When working with vibrating power tools and machinery, the vibrations can cause damage to the hands, arms, shoulder and even the whole body.
  • Heavy Lifting – Carrying heavy objects without the correct safety procedures can put strain on the body.
  • Repetitive Tasks – The human body is not designed to do the same thing over and over again and this puts strain on the particular muscles being used.
  • Poor Posture – If you are sitting at a desk all day, a hunched posture can cause back, shoulder and neck strain.
  • Badly Designed Work Areas – A work area that forces you to spend most of the day in an uncomfortable position means that you are more likely to experience back, neck, shoulder and arm strain.
  • Pulling or Pushing Heavy Loads – Moving large loads without the correct equipment or safety procedures brings with it a risk of danger.
  • Extra-Curricular Hobbies – Sometimes MSDs can develop as the result of a hobby in the employee’s personal life, such as tennis elbow or issues with the hands and fingers as a result of playing the guitar.

Of course, MSDs can develop in many other ways – but these are the most common causes of this problem within the workplace.

Carrying Out Risk Assessments

Because there is a risk of MSDs in almost any working environment and they can manifest in many ways, it is important to carry out a risk assessment so that you can be aware of the dangers in your specific workplace.

A risk assessment will involve taking a close look at the particular risks involved in the work tasks and identifying what specific problems need to be addressed. From there, it is possible to create a plan for improved health and safety that is specific to the workplace in question.

Taking a course in managing safely will teach you how to conduct such a risk assessment in the correct way, showing you all of the steps involved in creating a custom plan for health and safety in your workplace. It is a legal obligation for all employers to assess the risks relevant to their workers and take precautions to protect their wellbeing.

How to Avoid MSDs in the Workplace

It is difficult to prevent MSDs, especially because they develop over time. However, there are a few things that you can do in order to avoid the risks:

  • If you work at a desk, make sure that the desk chair, your desk, the computer monitor and the keyboard are set up in an ergonomic way. You should be able to sit upright and should not have to hunch or strain to see the monitor or reach the keys.
  • When working for long periods of time, make sure that you take breaks to stretch your muscles and walk around every 30 minutes or so.
  • A third of all workplace injuries are caused by lifting, carrying, pulling or lowering heavy loads.

Be careful when lifting, follow the correct technique and if it is too heavy to lift on your own – ask for help.

  • If your employer asks you to lift something that is too heavy for you, or to perform a task that you don’t feel safe doing, you don’t have to comply. You have a right to refuse work that is unsafe, so don’t put your health at risk.
  • If you experience pains in your arms, wrists, hands, shoulders, neck and back – let your employer know about the issue before it becomes a problem. Your employer is required by law to take your report seriously and don’t worry, they can’t fire you because you made a complaint.
  • When you are sitting or standing for a long time, keep your back upright and don’t slouch.

Performing crunches and sit ups will strengthen your core muscles and make this easier.

  • MSDs can be caused by the vibrations from vehicles and power tools. There are a number of health and safety adjustments that can be made when working with these tools, such as improving the suspension on vehicles and using more ergonomic tools that reduce vibration.
  • Getting regular exercise will keep your muscles, joints and tendons supple and strong, which will help to reduce the risk of repetitive strain injury and MSDs.

MSDs are, quite literally, a pain in the neck (or back, or shoulders, etc.) and can really be a detriment to your quality of life. This is a prevalent problem in many different workplaces, so take the time to give your working environment a thorough risk assessment and develop a safe working plan for the future.