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Employers' guide to musculoskeletal disorders

Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD) relate to any injury, damage or disorder of the joints or other tissues in the upper/lower limbs or the back. MSD is the most frequent health complaint raised by European employees and the most common cause of long term disability. 

Impact of musculoskeletal disorders

MSD may cause employees to experience stiffness, pain and an inability to straighten joints. This can mean that an employee may find it difficult to such things as lifting, climbing, bending standing, sitting  or walking for prolonged periods.

People with MSD often report feeling isolated in the workplace due to a lack of understanding or empathy from colleagues. Seemingly innocuous tasks such as using a keyboard, mouse or pen or lifting light objects can be very difficult for someone with repetitive strain injury, arthritis affecting the hands and wrists or carpal tunnel syndrome.

Many MSD’s are caused by environmental factors at home or in the workplace. Therefore it is essential workplace ergonomics are managed carefully and, for example, bad posture when working at a computer is challenged and corrected. 

Recruiting people with musculoskeletal disorders

  • Ask the candidate in advance if they require any reasonable adjustments for the recruitment and selection process.
  • Consider the accessibility of the environment where the recruitment activity is taking place, as well as any adjustment to the activity itself. For example, interviews need to be held in an accessible room with suitable toilet facilities nearby. 

Supporting staff with musculoskeletal disorders

  • Risk assess the role and modify if reasonable. Both the employer and the employee need to recognise their individual responsibilities for ensuring  safe working practices.
  • Short hourly breaks to allow posture change – this may need to be more regular in some cases.
  • Mechanical aids such as an ergonomic keyboard for office employees or a trolley for manual handling.
  • Train and advise employee to protect their wellbeing at work.
  • Contact Access to Work (external site) for advice on equipment and the work station. Review this regularly to ensure ongoing effectiveness and suitability. 

Useful information about musculoskeletal disorders

You might need to make some adjustments to help your employees. These could include specialist equipment like chairs and IT equipment. Grants are available through Access to Work (external site) to help to cover the cost of items that are identified as necessary to support employees who are disabled or have a health condition.

Take a look at our case studies to see how we have transformed the lives of disabled people