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Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders

The European Safety Campaign 20-22 Healthy Workplaces Lighten the Load campaign focuses on work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). 

What are musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)?

Musculoskeletal disorders comprise of more than 150 diagnoses that affect the locomotor system:

  •  muscles
  •  bones
  •  joints and
  •  associated tissues such as tendons and ligaments.

MSDs include Work Related Upper Limb Disorders (WRULDs) and Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSIs).

Symptoms may include

  •  pain
  •  discomfort
  •  numbness and
  •  tingling in the affected area.

Symptoms can differ in severity from mild and periodic to severe, chronic and debilitating conditions.  MSDs can be highly detrimental to an individual’s quality of life and ability to work, and are one of the most common causes of disability, sick leave and early retirement.

Causes of Work-related musculoskeletal disorders

The causes of work-related musculoskeletal disorders include;

  •  poor posture
  •  repetitive movements
  •  poor manual handling practices (lifting heavy or bulky loads, pushing, pulling or dragging heavy loads)
  •  work with display screen equipment
  •  awkward movements
  •  sustained or excessive forceful movements
  •  carrying out a task for a long time
  •  direct mechanical pressure on body tissue
  •  vibrations and
  •  cold work environment.

Prevention of Work-related musculoskeletal disorders

Manual handling and people handling activities and use of Display Screen Equipment are key parts of the working day for most employees.

The HSE’s methods of prevention for reducing MSDs associated with manual handling and use of Display Screen Equipment are described in policies, guidelines, risk assessments and through training and health promotion.

Manual Handling Policy and Guidelines

The HSEs Manual Handling and People Handling Policy aims to reduce the risks associated with manual handling and people handling activities. Each service must have an operational plan to ensure the Manual Handling Policy is implemented.

The Manual Handling and People Handling Policy is supported with the Guidance on Managing the Manual Handling Issues of Service Users with Bariatric Needs.

Manual and people handling risk assessments

Manual and people handling risk assessments and provision of controls is a key component of managing the risks associated with manual handling. There are four risk assessments that can be completed for different work tasks or practices:

  •  Overall Generic Unit / Department Risk Assessments: This is an assessment of the general situation in the ward or department and takes account of the work environment and work activities.
  •  Task Specific Risk Assessment: Where the ward/department risk assessment identifies that a manual handling activity presents a risk of injury, the activity must be assessed in greater detail to determine what controls are required.
  • People Handling Risk Assessment: The aim of the people handling risk assessment and handling plan is to clarify safe methods of handling each service user, develop a handling care plan so that injury to staff and service users can be avoided.
  • Dynamic Risk Assessment: This is an informal on-the-spot undocumented risk assessment.  Every employee is required to complete this dynamic risk assessment prior to completing any manual or people handling task. The purpose of this risk assessment is to allow the  employee  to identify if the task is within their capability.

Manual Handling Training

Manual Handling Training must form part of the overall strategy to reduce the risks associated with such activities.  The NHSF has developed guidance that will support you to provide this training safety. Information on manual handling training available at here.

Manual handling training can and should continue albeit with the necessary precautions in place to reduce the risk from COVID-19. The NHSF has issued guidance to support the safe provision of manual handling training. 

Display Screen Equipment Guidelines

Display Screen Equipment Guideline outlines the approach to the management of risks associated with the use of DSE workstations.

COVID 19 Home Working Guidelines support managers and employees to comply with their legal obligations in relation to staff working from home during this Covid-19 pandemic.

Working from home during COVID-19 – Workstation Setup Guidelines help guide employees on how to achieve a similar ergonomic set-up to that achieved at work.

Display Screen Equipment Risk Assessment

The Display Screen Equipment Risk Assessment is performed by the DSE Assessor (your manager or designee) and the DSE user. Any hazards and risks arising from the use of DSE and the associated workstation must be identified and additional controls implemented where necessary.

 If you are working from home, you and your Line Manager must carry out the risk assessment for Home Working over the telephone, using the Home Working Risk Assessment Form.

Display Screen Equipment Training

All staff using Display Screen Equipment must complete the Display Screen Equipment: User Awareness training module on HSELand.  This module has been designed to show you how to achieve the optimum workstation set-up. 

DSE Assessors Training is also available. To be considered competent as a DSE Assessors (HSE manager/employee) must complete all the following HSElanD modules;

  •  Managing Health and Safety In The Healthcare Setting (Grade V and above)
  •  Display Screen Equipment – User/Awareness Module
  •  Display Screen Equipment - Assessor Module

Promoting Physical Movement

Regular movement for DSE user’s is encouraged e.g. go to the photocopier or store room, try gentle stretching exercises during online meetings or stand up during phone calls.

The HSE promote staff supports for physical and mental wellbeing at staff health and wellbeing programme.

Management of Work-related musculoskeletal disorders

If you have any musculoskeletal symptoms, let your manager know.  Your manager will refer you to Occupational Health for assessment and support. You can also self-refer to Occupational Health. Occupational Health may recommend specific workplace accommodations to enable you to continue to work.

In more complex circumstances, it may be necessary to engage the services of an Ergonomist. Contact the Health and Safety Helpdesk for ergonomic service details. 

For staff who have been out of work due to MSDs, support is also available from the HSE’s Rehabilitation Service.

Accidents/Incidents that may result in an MSD

If you have an accident or incidents that may result in any musculoskeletal symptoms, you need to report it in line with the Incident Management Framework 2018.

Additional resources:  

Here is a short film showing prevention of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in relation to a workstation set-up: https://youtu.be/U7JUCEUqGQg