Musculoskeletal disorders

Musculoskeletal disorders


Every year more than 1 million people suffer from a work-related musculoskeletal disorder (MSD), accounting for an estimated loss of over 7.6 million working days in 2010/11.

Due to the nature of their work construction and building trades carry a particularly high risk of musculoskeletal disorders. Very often these are back injuries occurring after manual lifting and handling.

Causes of musculoskeletal disorders

Musculoskeletal disorders affect muscles, joints, tendons and other parts of the musculoskeletal system. Any activity that involves some movement of the body can cause a musculoskeletal injury. The following factors, which are commonplace in construction work, further increase the risk:

  • Repetitive and heavy lifting
  • Bending and twisting
  • Repeating an action too frequently
  • Uncomfortable working position
  • Exerting too much force
  • Working too long without breaks
  • Exerting force in a static position for extended periods of time
  • Adverse working environment (e.g. hot, cold).

Manual handling and the law

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 (as amended) define clear measures for dealing with risks from manual handling. They demand that employers:

  • Avoid hazardous manual handling operations to be carried out by their employees so far as reasonably practicable
  • Assess any hazardous manual handling operations that cannot be avoided, and
  • Reduce the risk of injury for their employees so far as reasonably practicable.

What you can do

However, there are also a number of ways how you can help to prevent a musculoskeletal disorder. Below are some tips for good handling for lifting, pushing and pulling.

Good handling techniques for lifting:

  1. Think before lifting/handling. Can handling aids be used? Do you know where you are going to place the load? Do you need help for lifting?
  2. Adopt a stable position. The feet should be apart with one leg slightly forward to maintain balance. Avoid tight clothing or unsuitable footwear.
  3. Get a good hold. The load should be hugged as close as possible to the body. Keep the heaviest side of the load next to the body.
  4. Start in a good posture. Slight bending of the back, hips and knees at the start of the lift is preferable to fully flexing the back or fully flexing the hips and knees.
  5. Don’t flex the back any further while lifting. This can happen if the legs begin to straighten before starting to raise the load.
  6. Avoid twisting the back or leaning sideways, especially while the back is bent. Shoulders should be kept level and facing in the same direction as the hips.
  7. Keep the head up when handling. Look ahead, not down at the load, once it has been held securely.
  8. Move smoothly. The load should not be jerked or snatched as this can make it harder to keep control and can increase the risk of injury.
  9. Put down, then adjust. Put the load down first, then slide it into the desired position.

Good handling techniques for pushing and pulling:

  1. Handling devices. Aids such as barrows and trolleys should have handle heights that are between the shoulder and waist. Devices should be well maintained with wheels that run smoothly.
  2. Force. Try to push rather than pull when moving a load, provided you can see over it and control steering and stopping.
  3. Slopes. Seek help from another worker whenever you have to negotiate a slope or ramp, as pushing and pulling forces can be very high.
  4. Uneven surfaces. Be aware that moving an object over soft or uneven surfaces requires higher forces.
  5. Stance and pace. To make it easier to push or pull, try to keep your feet well away from the load and go no faster than walking speed. This will prevent you from becoming too tired too quickly.

Further information:

HSE Website:

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