Insights into workplace challenges to reducing work-related musculoskeletal disorders

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WORK-RELATED musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are widespread and have a significant impact on individuals, employers and the wider economy.

The purpose of the research was to improve HSE’s understanding of employer and worker knowledge, attitudes, behaviours and needs regarding the prevention and management of MSDs. Research focused on three priority sectors where rates are particularly high and job roles involve a significant amount of manual handling – transportation and storage (parcel carriers), construction and healthcare (nursing).

HSE specialists completed a literature review before commissioning an independent research agency (Revealing Reality) to conduct ethnography and qualitative interviews with employers and workers – due to the nature and scale of the project and to provide greater objectivity.

Key findings from the research were as follows:

  • The language around ‘MSDs’ was not consistently understood or applied by either employers or workers, with implications for workplace communication and implementing controls.
  • Workplace cultures often acted as a barrier to healthy working – for example macho behaviour in construction and ‘patient first’ mentality in nursing.
  • Nine other barriers were identified, relating to worker and employer motivation, situational or ‘in the moment’ factors and how workplaces were structured and organised.
  • There was a need for greater innovation beyond traditional workplace interventions such as generic manual handling training and posters.

Benefits
This research gave valuable insights into why musculoskeletal disorders rates remain high in these three sectors.  HSE’s in-house team then worked closely with MSD and sector policy teams to turn the research findings into new sector interventions as well as informing future policy and strategy.

More information
Health and Safety Executive (2018) Summary report. Work-related musculoskeletal disorders, a tri-sector exploration. Available at: http://www.hse.gov.uk/research/insight/msd-report.pdf

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