Musculoskeletal disorders - early intervention

On occasions, and in spite of your best efforts, some employees may develop an MSD. What should you do if this happens? You will need to deal with the individual and with the workplace.

Helping an individual with an MSD

The HSE explains that ‘MSD is a broad umbrella label for many types of aches and pains and treatment will be determined by the exact medical diagnosis’. Most cases can be satisfactorily dealt with by your GP. Chartered physiotherapists can be most helpful in the assessment and treatment of these disorders. Occasionally, it may be necessary for your GP to refer you to see a specialist such as a consultant in orthopaedics or rheumatology.

To find a physiotherapist in your area, go to the websites of any of the following organisations:

Information about specific conditions

NHS Choices has specific information about back pain, as well as upper limb pain and disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome. NHS Choices includes information on symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment and prevention.

Advice for employers

It may not be possible to prevent all cases of MSDs, but there are things you can do to help prevent symptoms occurring or getting worse, whether they’re caused by work or only aggravated by work activities. The HSE has a range of advice about what you can do to help people who have MSD symptoms.

See the HSE website for more information.

Health monitoring

Health monitoring is an informal, voluntary method of surveying your workforce for symptoms of ill health, including low back pain. The law does not require health surveillance or health monitoring for workers exposed to the risks of MSDs, but it can provide a means of obtaining early reports of musculoskeletal complaints, which can be assessed and acted on as appropriate. For more information, see the HSE website.

What can I do to help an employee with back pain?

The HSE states that ‘As an employer, you can do a lot to help any staff that report back pain. It is very important to be positive and helpful in removing obstacles to their recovery’. Find out more...

Advice for employees

The HSE advises that you shouldn’t panic if you’re suffering symptoms. People with upper limb disorders usually recover completely if the problem is recognised early and treated appropriately.

If you’ve a musculoskeletal pain or experience discomfort or symptoms, tell your manager, supervisor, health and safety representative or other staff representative.

You should be particularly aware of the following symptoms:

  • pain
  • aching
  • burning
  • redness or swelling

It's important that you report these symptoms as soon as possible (along with any others which are concerning you) as help could be available. Find out more about ULDs on the HSE website.

The HSE provides a list of do’s and don’ts for employees with back pain. Find out more.

Addressing the workplace

Having identified workplace risk factors via risk assessment (see ‘Preventive action and early identification’ section), there are some examples of control measures for various industries in the HSEs leaflets on manual handling and upper limb disorders and ergonomics.

Some useful tips can be found on the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety website. The Peninsula Medical School literature review provides an evidence base for early intervention in sickness absence in the report Avoiding long-term incapacity for work: developing an early intervention in primary care.

Getting more help

The following organisations offer help and advice:

  • The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work campaign Lighten the load supports employers, workers, safety representatives, practitioners and others in improving MSD prevention in the workplace
  • Health for Work Adviceline for Small Business is a free service to help you quickly and effectively address the issue of employee ill health, minimise the impact of staff illness, and provide essential support to staff with physical or mental health issues back to the top

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