Shine a light on: work-related musculoskeletal disorders

In our blog, Shine a light on: work-related lung disease, we focused on just one of the objectives of the Health and Safety Executive’s ‘Go Home Healthy Campaign’ which is championing workers’ rights to go home healthy from work. This time, we shine a light on musculoskeletal disorders which, up until last year, have consistently been the biggest cause of working days lost in the UK. Let’s start with the basics…

What are musculoskeletal disorders?

As defined by the HSE, musculoskeletal disorders – or MSDs – refer to any injury, damage or disorder of the joints or other tissues in the upper/lower limbs or the back. Work-related MSDs are those caused by the work a person undertakes.

The HSE report that 8.9 million working days are lost each year as a result of work-related MSDs, with a total of 507,000 cases in the last year alone.

Types of MSDs

Upper limb disorders (ULDs)
Upper limb disorder (ULD) covers a large number of conditions that affect the shoulder, elbow, forearm, wrist or hand. These might include carpal tunnel syndrome non-specific arm pain (also known as repetitive strain injury), tenosynovitis or tennis elbow.

ULDs were the most common form of musculoskeletal disorder according to last year’s HSE figures, with 229,000 cases equating to 45% of the total cases in 2016/17.

Lower limb disorders (LLDs)
Lower limb disorders (LLDs) includes those which affect the hips, legs, knees, ankles and feet. LLDs usually happen as a result of overuse and can include osteoarthritis, knee bursitis, meniscal lesions/ tear damage, stress fracture/stress reaction injuries and varicose injuries.

This type of MSD is the least common of the three kinds, making up 17% of musculoskeletal disorders reported in 2016/17 with 84,000 cases.

Both of the terms ULD and LLD apply to injuries where there is pain in the part of the body that may not have specific symptoms such as pain, swelling and difficulty moving.

Back pain
The term ‘back pain’ is quite self-explanatory, and is something which many people experience at some point in their lives. Lower back pain is common and can be extremely painful. A positive about this kind of pain though is that, though it is often hard to cope with, it is rarely caused by serious disease.

Back pain cases totalled 194,000 in 2016/17, making up 38% of MSDs that year.

Who is likely to be affected by MSDs?

Though all job types pose the risk of MSDs, those that present a higher risk include:

  • HGV Driver
  • Farmer
  • Deliver person
  • Care Assistant
  • Nurse
  • Construction worker
  • Paramedic
  • Baggage Handler
  • Window fitter
  • Mechanic

HSE figures from 2016/17 showed the construction industry to have the highest rate of musculoskeletal disorders.

One of the key things to remember when it comes to MSDs, is that in many cases they can be prevented or at least minimised.

How to keep your employees safe on the job

We took you through your duties as an employer, as stated in the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 in our work-related lung disease blog and these duties apply to all areas of Health & Safety. MSD specific duties include:

Risk assessments
As an employer, you must identify working practices that are likely to cause musculoskeletal disorders and put effective control measures in place to reduce the risk. This is known as the hierarchy of control. Risk assessments for manual handing and Display Screen Equipment particular must be carried out. Other useful tools include the Assessment of Repetitive Tasks Tool and Rapid Upper Limb Assessment.

Health monitoring
In the event that your risk assessments highlight a risk of MSDs in your business, it may be useful to have systems in place to actively collect early reports of any symptoms workers may be suffering. This is not a legal requirement, but could identify MSDs early and allow for effective treatment.

Did you know?
THE HSE recently launched unannounced inspections are to take place in food manufacturing businesses nationwide with a focus on MSD, which are the main cause of ill-health in the industry. And any sector good be next!

How to keep yourself safe on the job

Manual Handling
Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 define manual handling as:
…any transporting or supporting of a load (including the lifting, putting down, pushing, pulling, carrying or moving thereof) by hand or bodily force.’

The regulations set out three clear steps in dealing with manual handling risks:

  1. Avoid hazardous manual handling operations so far as is reasonably practicable;
  2. Assess any hazardous manual handling operations that cannot be avoided; and
  3. Reduce the risk of injury so far as is reasonably practicable.

The best way to reduce the risk of injury is to ensure that you complete the activity safely. Watch this handy video from the HSE for a full demonstration on manual handling.

For those amongst us who have less physical jobs, it is likely that you will use Display Screen Equipment (DSE) when using a computer screen, or a Visual Display Unit (VDU) on another device.  This kid of equipment can lead to neck, shoulder, back or arm pain in addition to fatigue and eyestrain.

To reduce the risk of MSDs through use of DSE, it is vital that you carry out a DSE assessment of your workstation. During this assessment your display screens, keyboards, mouse, software, furniture and environment need to be considered and any methods available to reduce the risk should be applied.

Downward trend

Unfortunately, even by following all of the advice above, you cannot prevent all MSDs from occurring. What is essential in these cases is the early reporting of symptoms, proper treatments and suitable rehabilitation.

The good news though, is that since 2001/02 there has been a general downward trend of musculoskeletal disorders. With the support of the HSE’s Go Home Healthy campaign and the extensive advice from the HSE available to all parties, this looks set to continue.

Are you unsure whether you are providing a safe and healthy working environment for your workers? We are here to help! Contact the largest team of Environmental Health Practitioners in the country on 020 3740 3744 or email to start making safety simple today.

The information contained in this blog article has been created for marketing purposes and is not official guidance and should not be used as a substitute for official Food Safety, Fire Safety and Health & Safety advice. Shield Safety take no responsibility if the information in the blog article is used to form part of a safety management system or used to form part of any legal or regulatory compliance for your business. For official guidance and to engage with Shield Safety services please do call our team on 020 3740 3744 or email

Sign up for our blog


Shield Safety Group

Blogs, Health & Safety

Latest insights

3 weeks | 3 mins
From Risk to Re-assurance: 5 Tips For Transforming Your Business’ Allergy Policy

When you work in the hospitality industry, ensuring the safety of every guest is paramount […]

Read post
4 weeks | 2 mins
Essential Safety Tips for Managing Allergies

Allergies affect millions worldwide, impacting people of all ages and backgrounds. In the UK alone, […]

Read post
2 months | 1 min
How can dynamic data inform real-time change in your business? 

At Shield Safety, we’re transforming how businesses manage safety through the delivery of trusted safety […]

Read post

Keep in touch