Musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs, are a common result of repetitive actions, poor posture, and sustained activities that contribute to physical problems, like sitting, reaching, or standing. These harmful motions and positions are often a result of workplace conditions that require employees to adopt these movements for hours at a time, day after day. As an employer, it’s your responsibility to prevent these problems at the source. This may mean monitoring repetitive and stressful behaviors, assigning varied tasks and break periods to diminish the threat, or designing ergonomic workspaces that accommodate the natural motions of the muscles and joints.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety defines work-related MSDs as injuries resulting from sustained stressful and repetitive motions, not injuries that result from sudden acute strain, impact, or trauma. These disorders (also called by several other names, including repetitive stress injuries, repetitive strain injuries, and overuse disorder) are divided into three categories: muscle injury, tendon injury, and nerve injury.

Treatment and management

Most work-related MSDs are not disabling or life threatening if they’re recognized early enough for effective intervention. Symptoms usually include fatigue, aches, numbness, or swelling or burning sensations in the affected area, and treatments usually involve any combination of rest, therapeutic exercises and the application of heat and cold.  Sometimes medication or surgery may be necessary to correct a severe problem.

Prevention of MSDs

The most important treatment—especially from a management standpoint—involves prevention. Managers and operations experts should keep the threat of MSDs in mind while designing workspaces and assigning tasks. At the same time, a few simple moves can keep the problem at bay.

Rotate and enrich tasks to keep employees active in a variety of ways on both sides of the body. Shift tasks as many times as possible during a single shift, and use teamwork to enrich the environment and shift activities throughout the day.

Rethink workplace design. Keep the tools required by one task located close to the tools required for a related task or concurrent task. Organize and store frequently used items in areas that are naturally and easily accessible. Adjust lighting, temperature and floor plans as necessary to prevent strain and repetitive motion.

Invest in tools and equipment with ergonomic designs that reflect and respect the natural motions of the user. For example, lift trucks with environmental sensors and advanced signaling that prevent users from twisting to look backwards, and control panels that limit the need for awkward reaching. For more on the benefits of ergonomic reaching and lifting equipment, contact the materials handling experts at Liftow.