Sitting is a common body posture and the one we find ourselves in more often than not, whether it be travelling, socialising, eating and most often working. Did you know the average person spends half of their day sitting, while office workers spend up to 15 hours a day seated! Contrary to popular belief, sitting and other sedentary behaviours are not harmless activities. In fact, they are far from it. Combine this with society’s recent addiction to the use of mobile devices – phones, tablets, laptops – this leads us into a musculo-skeletal disorder (MSD) epidemic!

So what is an MSD and how do you end up with an MSD?  Musculo-skeletal disorders can occur anywhere in the body, however, they commonly result in a variety of possible symptoms: back pain, neck pain, wrist pain, forearm pain, shoulder pain, etc. MSD’s are not a result of one thing but are cumulative, they come on gradually and tend to be hidden from us until the pain strikes.

Many workers acquire an MSD over a period of time, spending years at a desk. However, millennials are actually coming into the workplace with symptoms before they begin their careers. This is often through overuse of handheld technology throughout their formative years.

Although people may experience musculo-skeletal disorders for non-work related reasons (e.g. a health condition, or activities outside of work), employers have a duty to ensure that the risk of developing an MSD through work activities is as low as is reasonably practicable.

Risk factors causing MSDs can be found in virtually every workplace, from construction to manufacturing and healthcare. The risk factors for work-related MSDs are well known, musculo-skeletal disorders are associated with work that involves:

  • Fixed or awkward postures
  • Repetitive movements
  • Force applied by the body, or to the body
  • Long exposure to the activity, with few breaks or change of activity
  • Manual handling
  • Vibrating hand tools
  • Psychosocial factors such as workplace culture and stress

In general, it is a combination of these factors that gives rise to the development of MSDs, therefore, it may be necessary to tackle a number of risk factors at the workplace to reduce the risk of MSDs.

Ergonomics is the main point of discussion in MSD prevention. Getting ergonomics right will involve having a good understanding of the variety of tasks that are done in the workplace, the way they are carried out, along with the tools and equipment that are used in the tasks. In order to gain this holistic understanding, you may need to take time to observe tasks, discuss issues with workers, as well as explore different possible options for reducing risk.

Once the risk factors have been identified, you can then take measures to reduce the risk through better design, repositioning of equipment, different tools, work organisation etc. Improving the ergonomic design of your work or workplace needn’t be expensive. Depending on the nature of the work, actions to reduce risk may be simple. For example, for office-based personnel, consider setting workstations at a suitable height for the range of staff and the work undertaken, ensuring suitable adjustability is available in the chairs, desks, and equipment provided, ensuring appropriate foot support. Or if required, providing tools that fit the range of sizes of users’ hands well, providing anti-fatigue insoles or matting and ensuring work is organised so that staff are able to avoid long periods undertaking highly repetitive movements.

It is also important to consider the information and training needs of workers in relation to the task, tools and equipment, and the importance of breaks/changes in activity. Although providing suitable equipment and furniture can help prevent MSDs, the users’ interaction with the equipment is equally important; it is no benefit to provide a sit-stand desk if the user always sits at it! And as another example, if you are not able to touch type, an alternative keyboard is not going to mean that you don’t have to look at it when keying (which obviously can strain your neck). So training and information are also important to ensure workers have the skills, knowledge and awareness of how to use the equipment and furniture provided.

Although organisations can take many measures to reduce the risk of MSDs, it isn’t possible to prevent all musculo-skeletal disorders. So, alongside a prevention programme, a system which encourages early reporting of any symptoms (so that measures can be taken to support the worker and reduce risk), proper treatment and suitable rehabilitation is also essential. Further information and guidance is available on the Government’s HSE’s website, take a look here.

Additionally, we’re here to help! KS Health & Safety Consultancy offers clients a practical and solution based approach to professional health and safety service on a consultancy or retainer basis. Our business works with associated H&S professionals who have a wealth of heavy industry experience who enable all our clients to get the cost effective, competent H&S advice they desire. To enquire, contact Kevin Scott at or visit

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