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Executive opinion - June 22

09 August 2022

Matt Birtles provides an insight to musculoskeletal disorders and the importance of managing the risk of manual handling

I'VE BEEN working in the field of musculoskeletal disorders now for over 20 years. The working world has changed over those years (especially in the last few) and in this new normal, organisations must take ongoing action to monitor and manage MSD risks. This strong focus on worker health and safety, in turn, benefits organisational performance.

Musculoskeletal disorder risk can be found in all occupations and can result in huge costs. On average, people take 14 days off work following significant injury. Indicative costs, borne mainly by the employer, for each significant health issue case costs around £9,000. It actually costs more than that in societal costs if you also include things like medical help, prescriptions and loss of earnings. Your own organisational costs per incident are well worth estimating so that you can report the overhead cost of interventions and the savings gained from reducing incidence. You don't have to reduce too many incidents on each process before you've just saved your organisation a few thousand pounds. 


So how do we manage MSDs? First, we identify the higher risk jobs that are more likely to contribute to an injury. The best way of doing that is through engagement with your workforce on walkabouts. Get yourself seen on the operational lines where the work is being done. It’s a good way of identifying high-risk activities and also gaining the engagement of the workers doing those jobs. Once you've identified the higher risk activities, question whether it’s possible to avoid them. Often mechanisation or automation can help with this but if these types of solutions are out of reach and you can't avoid those high-risk jobs then assess the risk. This is the step where we understand the levels of risk and what kind of emphasis we need to put in to control. We assess to help us understand so that we can prioritise where we need to either reduce or eliminate the risk (can we design out the risk?). The residual risk that can’t be eliminated needs to be managed through measures such as training. Trainers can come in and mop-up residual risk by teaching our operators and our colleagues how to do those higher-risk activities more safely and raise awareness of safer operating procedures or changing their own behaviours.

I hope that this article has sparked some good ideas or helped even to re-iterate what you already know. My challenge to you is to look at your risk management process with fresh eyes. Where are the risks in your organisation? Can they be tackled in another way? If it’s been a while since you engaged with your workforce, do it again. Ask them questions and be prepared to listen and take action.

Further information from HSE

Matt chaired a free webinar in June: Musculoskeletal Disorders: Managing the Risk of Manual Handling and Display Screen Equipment for Workers on Site or Working From Home. You can watch this on demand by registering here: https://tinyurl.com/ms2sbnzp

To help to inform employers, we are hosting this free webinar on how to effectively manage the risk of MSDs in your workplace and protect your home workers. This hour-long event will feature experts from HSE to discuss current guidance and principles and give some practical examples of where the right, proportionate approach has worked well. For more information and to register visit the HSE event page.

More guidance on MSD regulations

The MSD section of the HSE website has links to more guidance, resources, tools and publications that can help in your MSD Risk Management.

Publications and products from HSE that can help to improve your risk management process

The HSE Books website offers information about publications and the New Musculoskeletal (MSD) Online Assessment Tool, which combines the popular MSD assessment guides MAC, ART and RAPP and transforms them into an all-in-one digital solution.

Training from the experts, informed by the regulator

Matt Birtles has helped to write, and regularly delivers HSE training courses, which are developed to include practical guidance around regulations in order to help organisations comply with law, enhance performance and keep workforces healthy and safe.

Matt Birtles is principal ergonomist at the Health and Safety Executive. For more information, visit www.hse.gov.uk/msd