Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are injuries or conditions of the muscles, tendons, joints, cartilage, spinal discs, and nerves. They are characterized by pain, which can often be persistent, and limitations in mobility and dexterity. According to the World Health Organization, 1.71 billion people have musculoskeletal conditions worldwide and these conditions are the leading contributor to disability.
MSDs comprise more than 150 conditions. Some can be short-lived like sprains and strains, while other may become chronic conditions that lead to disability. MSDs are often called by other names, such as “overuse injuries”, “repetitive motion injuries”, or “ergonomic injuries”.
Some common types of MSDs are:
Work-related MSDs are among the most frequently reported causes for lost work time and proven to attribute to lost productivity. For employers, these disorders can come with a high price tag such as increased healthcare costs, and disability and worker’s compensation costs. According to a 2018 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index analysis, nonfatal workplace injuries cost employers $60 billion in direct costs. MSDs related to lifting, pushing, pulling, holding, carrying, or throwing objects accounts for 23.4% of those injuries and costs $13.7 billion alone! Work-related MSDs are classified as condition in which the work environment contributed significantly to causing the condition or has made the condition worse.
Risk factors for work-related MSDs fall into two categories: ergonomic risk factors and individual risk factors. Ergonomic risk factors are aspects of a job that can cause wear and tear on an employee’s body, making injuries more likely.
These risk factors include:
Of these risk factors, force, repetition, and awkward postures are most often association with MSDs, especially when they occur in combination.
Individual factors are aspects of the employee’s lifestyle that are more within their control. These personal habits such as poor work hygiene, poor fitness or nutrition, and poor rest and recovery also increase the risk for injury. When a worker is fatigued or dehydrated, their musculoskeletal system is at a higher risk for injury and pain. When individual risks and ergonomic risks are both present, it is a recipe for disaster.
Luckily, work-related MSDs can be prevented. Before implementing any interventions, employers should develop an evaluation plan and assess potential baselines, processes, health outcomes, and organizational changes.
By simply monitoring and adjusting the ways in which employees use their bodies and interact with their environment, many injuries can be avoided. Ergonomics, the practice of fitting a job to a person, helps lessen muscle fatigue and reduces the number and severity of MSD cases. “A workplace ergonomics program can aim to prevent or control injuries and illnesses by eliminating or reducing worker exposure to [work-related MSD] risk factors using engineering and administrative controls.” Administrative controls like reducing shift length, limiting overtime, and rotating employees through physically tiring tasks can alleviate the amount of physical stress. Additionally, providing consistent training in recognizing risk factors and techniques to ease the burden of tasks can eliminate stress and strains.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, February 12). Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders & Ergonomics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved June 3, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/health-strategies/musculoskeletal-disorders/index.html
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2020, May 1). Fact Sheet | Occupational injuries and illnesses resulting in musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) | May 2020. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved June 6, 2022, from https://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/case/msds.htm
Workplace Safety Index - Liberty Mutual Business Insurance. Liberty Mutual. (2018). Retrieved June 3, 2022, from https://business.libertymutualgroup.com/business-insurance/Documents/Services/Workplace%20Safety%20Index.pdf
World Health Organization. (2021, February 8). Musculoskeletal conditions. World Health Organization. Retrieved June 3, 2022, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/musculoskeletal-conditions