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Musculoskeletal Disorders

Employers must take precautions to protect workers from musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)—a group of injuries and conditions that affects the back, joints, and limbs.

Employers must try to reduce the risk that their workers (and others affected by what they do) will develop MSDs.

It is impossible to prevent all MSDs, so early detection of symptoms, treatment, and proper rehabilitation are essential for those who sustain them.

The parts of the human body most likely to be affected by MSDs are:

- The lower back. Repetitive tasks or activities can cause back pain, like lifting, pushing, or pulling a heavy load and carrying it awkwardly, staying in the same position for too long, etc.

- Upper limb disorders (of shoulders, forearms, wrists, hands, and neck) can result from prolonged repetitive work, mainly when you use only one hand or arm for extended periods without rest. They can also be caused by uncomfortable or awkward positions or working with power tools for many hours.

- Lower limb disorders (hips, legs, knees, ankles, feet). Overuse of joints and muscles can cause many lower limb disorders that are more common in work tasks involving repetitive squatting or kneeling, climbing stairs, and standing for long periods.

Workers can develop different kinds of MSDs at the same time.

As an employer, your responsibility is to manage the risks of MSDs in your company. Company management should consider requirements for a general risk assessment at all times. For example, the employer should look closely at the potential risks of MSD at work that could arise from:

- Manual handling. The employer must protect workers from the risk of injury by ensuring they are adequately trained in all aspects of manual handling, including lifting, putting down, pushing, pulling, carrying, and moving loads.

- Repetitive work and awkward postures like bending, crouching, stooping, or stretching for prolonged periods.

- Prolonged use of equipment with display screens such as PCs, laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc.

- exposure to vibration, for example, from using powered, hand-held tools or driving machinery over the coarse ground.

The other MSD risk factors at work could be to do with poor work conditions, including lighting, temperature, or the quality of air; poor organization, such as a stressful environment or lack of breaks. Although not directly, stress and psychological reasons can contribute to developing MSD symptoms. Working beyond their capability or when physically tired, an underlying health condition or a recent trauma could make workers perceptible to developing more health problems.

Some industries report more incidents of MSD than others. The companies with the most incidents of MSD include construction, transport, logistics, health, social care, and agriculture.

It is essential to bring awareness about the risks of injury in the workplace by providing regular training to your employees. However, more than training, on its own, is needed to ensure that workers are handling materials safely. It is not enough to focus on training your employees to handle objects without dropping them or causing injuries in other ways. The more intelligent move would be to ensure the workplace has been designed for optimal safety: everything from being clear about where boxes should be placed and stacked (with permanent markings indicating this) to having a properly-designed system for moving loads around accurately. The employer should also observe and revise procedures when necessary to see if workers understand them and apply the rules correctly.

Relevant training should be provided for staff members to carry out their jobs effectively about manual handling risks, the employees' understanding of how to avoid injuries, and the safe use of technology. The training in good handling techniques should be customized to the tasks workers carry out.

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