Safety and Health Professionals
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are a significant problem. But, they could be prevented or greatly reduced by complying with existing safety and health law and following guidance on good practice.
The main features of MSD prevention are already recognised in European directives, Member States regulations and good practice.
Risk assessment can help to identify the workplace hazards and who is at risk, to decide on adequate preventive measures and risk monitoring.
Assessment should be based on a holistic approach and the total load on the body should be considered. Normally there is no single factor that causes MSDs — for example, manual handling alone is rarely the cause of back pain: there are many other factors that may contribute to its development, such as stress, vibration, cold and work organisation.
Therefore, it is very important to assess the full range of MSD risks and to address them in a comprehensive way. The risk assessment must be completed by a set of appropriate actions targeted to elimination, where possible, or reduction of the risks to musculoskeletal system. When deciding on preventive actions, a wide range of possible changes should be considered:
- workplace — for example, can the layout be improved to avoid workers performing tasks requiring high force applications in awkward, static working postures?
- work equipment — for example, are tools ergonomically designed? Can powered tools be used to reduce the force required for a task? Will the use of such tools increase exposure to hand or arm vibration?
- workers — they must be trained to increase their awareness of ergonomic factors and to recognise and avoid unsafe working conditions. Furthermore, workers must be convinced why it is important to pay attention to prevention and what happens if this is neglected. They should also be made aware of the benefits of adopting good practices and work methods in terms of reduced suffering and no lost wages;
- work task — one of the most important requirements is to reduce the physical demands of the job by decreasing the levels of force, repetition, awkward postures and/or vibration. This often necessitates the use of new tools or working methods;
- work management — for example, by planning the work better or implementing safe systems of work. It may be possible to reallocate tasks between workers to reduce repeated motions, forceful hand exertions, and prolonged bending and twisting;
- at the organisational level — practical solutions include developing appropriate work/rest ratios to reduce fatigue, organising breaks and rotating jobs. At the corporate level, adoption of a policy to develop a strong safety culture should be promoted to gain higher top-level commitment and involvement in identifying and controlling MSDs risk factors, and to improve safety and surveillance measures.
Attention also needs to be paid to:
- health surveillance;
- regular training;
- employee information and consultation and
- ergonomic work systems.
As well as prevention, experts also have a role to play in the retention, rehabilitation and reintegration of workers who already suffer from MSDs.