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Insights into work-related MSDs


The Challenge

Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are widespread and have a significant impact on individuals, employers and the wider economy. In educating and regulating industry, HSE guidance needs to remain relevant and practicable in ever-changing workplaces.

The Solution

HSE therefore conducted some research in order to improve our 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: construction, transportation and storage (parcel carriers), and healthcare (nursing).

Due to the nature and scale of the project (and to provide greater objectivity), HSE commissioned an independent research agency to conduct ethnography and qualitative interviews with employers and workers. This followed an initial literature review by HSE specialists.

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 application of 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

The Outcome

This research gave valuable insights into why musculoskeletal disorders rates remain high in three of HSE's priority 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.

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