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Musculoskeletal disorder risk for nurses and carers

08 April 2019

NURSES AND carers are among the workers in the health and social care sector with the highest risk of developing a musculoskeletal disorder as part of their job role (MSDs), audiences heard during IOSH’s Health and Social Care Group’s annual conference on 28 March.

MSDs are conditions that affect the nerves, tendons, muscles and supporting structures, such as the discs in your back. They result from one or more of these tissues having to work harder than they're designed to.

Dr Michael Paton, Senior Policy Advisor at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), delivered a talk during the conference outlining the risks to workers in the health and social care sector.

A Labour Force Survey shows that 469,000 workers suffered from a new or long-standing work-related MSD in 2017/18, resulting in 6.6 million working days lost.

With the health and social care sector employing 13% of the UK workforce, a significant number of people are potentially put at risk, particularly when a job is physically demanding and involves repetitive movements or strong physical exertion.

Dr Paton showed how there are 195,000 cases of work-related ill health each year in the health and social care sector, with 30% of these (58,000) being caused by MSDs. The sector also suffers from a high MSD prevalence rate compared to many industries, with 1,460 cases per 100,000 workers. Among workers, 24% of injuries were caused by lifting or handling, second only to slips and trips (39%).

Given the large variety of conditions that can be defined as MSDs, it can be challenging to address the causes, and many organisations and industries follow different methods to try and prevent MSDs from developing.

A number of speakers during the conference suggested that one of the biggest challenges with educating individuals about the harmful effects of MSDs is the language itself, with very few workers understanding what an MSD is, instead finding greater clarity in phrasing such as ‘back pain’ or ‘neck ache’. 

The event also highlighted how many workers in the health and social care sector rarely prioritise their own occupational health, with time pressures and working environments preventing them from abiding by best practice.

Mark Parsons, a member of IOSH’s Health and Social Care Group Committee, said, “The event was well received by the speakers and delegates and during conversations, they all said what a fantastic group of speakers we had on the day, with all the presentations blending well with each other.

“Factual studies undertaken, with feedback through the presentations, was an area we received particular positive feedback on the day. A number of delegates said the event has given them areas to review and to look at practices. Enquiries outside of the event through the various networks have asked if we could do the same in other parts of the UK.”