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Musculoskeletal Disorders in the Workforce

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Nowadays, emerging evidence accepts that both work-related factors and health issues beyond the workplace jointly contribute to the many health and safety problems that confront today’s workers. The whole objective of occupational safety and health protection is to promote health and prevent worker injury and illness as well as to advance health and wellbeing.

According to the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health an estimated 439,000 workers in Great Britain suffered from musculoskeletal disorders during 2011/12 that were caused or made worse by their current or past work, and, on average each person suffering took an estimated 17 days of sickness absence. Work activities which are frequent and repetitive (e.g. prolonged keyboard use), or activities with awkward postures, heavy lifting or physical strain can cause or exacerbate MSD’s.

Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) are a common and costly problem for people and companies across the UK. MSDs are the single largest category of workplace injuries and are responsible for almost 30% of all workers compensation costs.

What causes MSDs?
MSDs have a range of causes and exact cause depends on a person’s age, occupation, activity level and lifestyle.  For example certain types of activities can cause constitutional general wear and tear overtime, which may lead to skeletal disorders; poor posture as well as lack of sufficient exercise, such as stretching, can increase the effects of symptoms.

When a worker is exposed to MSD risk factors, they begin to fatigue. When fatigue outruns their body’s recovery system, they develop a musculoskeletal imbalance. Over time, as fatigue continues to outrun recovery and the musculoskeletal imbalance persists, a musculoskeletal disorder develops. Thus when a worker is asked to do work that is outside his body’s capabilities and limitations, he is being asked to put his musculoskeletal system at risk. Risk factors can be broken up into two categories: work-related (ergonomic) risk factors and individual-related risk factors.

There are three primary ergonomic risk factors: 
High task repetition; forceful exertions and repetitive or sustained awkward postures.
Individual risk factors include:

  • Poor overall health habits, including workers who are overweight, smoke and drink excessively.
  • Poor nutrition and generally unfit workers are putting themselves at a higher risk of developing musculoskeletal problems.

In order to limit the number of cases of musculoskeletal disorders organisations should perform comprehensive risk assessments and ensure they comply with good practice guidance, but individuals living with MSDs should take a proactive approach to self-management of their condition and recognise that informed communications between their health care professionals and their employer is in everyone’s interest.