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IOSH work-related musculoskeletal disorders policy position

Summary

Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), such as back and neck pain, tendinitis, hand-arm vibration syndrome and carpal tunnel syndrome, can potentially lead to pain, functional limitations, impairment and sickness absence. Whereas, well-designed work, in which physical and psychosocial risks are properly managed, can both prevent the development of MSDs and support employees with non-work-related MSDs at work.

While there is increasing evidence and knowledge about the causes of work-related MSDs, they remain the most common cause of severe long-term pain and physical disability and their impact on individuals is extensive. OSH professionals have a key role in helping raise awareness and ensure organisations provide safe, healthy and human-centred working environments.  

The facts

  • The World Health Organization reports that musculoskeletal conditions are the leading contributor to disability worldwide, with low back pain being the single leading cause of disability globally.
  • Research has indicated that almost half of European workers suffer from MSDs and that for workers reporting MSDs, backache is the most common problem, closely followed by shoulder, neck and upper limb pain.
  • EU-OSHA’s 2019 Third European of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks reported that three of the four most frequently identified risk factors are MSD risks: repetitive hand or arm movements, prolonged sitting and lifting or moving people or heavy loads.
  • The Royal College of General Practitioners estimated that by 2025 there will be an estimated 9.1 million people living with one or more serious long-term conditions in the UK.
  • IOSH supports the EU-OSHA campaign 2020-22: Healthy Workplaces Lighten the Load that focuses on the prevention of work-related MSDs.

Our position

Musculoskeletal diseases affect workers worldwide across the course of their working lives. This includes workers in all sectors and sizes of organisation and leads to significant human and economic cost for individuals, employers and society.

Work-related MSDs, such as back and neck pain, tendinitis, hand-arm vibration syndrome and carpal tunnel syndrome, can potentially lead to pain, functional limitations, impairment and sickness absence. Whereas, well-designed work, in which physical and psychosocial risks are properly managed, can both prevent the development of MSDs and support employees with non-work-related MSDs at work.

While there is increasing evidence and knowledge about the causes of work-related MSDs, they remain the most common cause of severe long-term pain and physical disability and their impact on individuals is extensive. OSH professionals have a key role in helping raise awareness and ensure organisations provide safe, healthy and human-centred working environments.

IOSH advocates that organisations create well-designed, ergonomically-sound work that prevents work-related MSDs, is tailored to individual needs and capacities, and supports those with health conditions and disabilities. This will include suitable risk assessments and controls; effective management of workload and physical and psychosocial risk factors; and the provision of appropriate training, equipment and supervision.  

IOSH resources

  • Occupational health toolkit and MSDs covering prevention, training, early intervention and rehabilitation.
  • Managing Occupational Health and Wellbeing course provides practical advice and tools for managers to help create a healthy and productive place of work.
  • Webinars: ‘New approaches to managing back pain in the workplace’, ‘Ergonomics and mental health for agile workers’, and ‘Load security’.

IOSH-commissioned research

  • UK Fit note research, with researchers recommendations for improvement.
  • ‘Hands on: Preventing work-related upper limb disorders in hand-intensive healthcare occupations’ study.
  • ‘Move more - Investigating the impact of behaviour change techniques on break taking behaviour at work’ study.

Relevant IOSH consultations responses