The Musculoskeletal system provides form, support, stability and aid in movement of the human and animal body. It is made up of the bones of the skeleton, muscles, cartilage, tendons, ligaments.

On the other hand too low a level of activity such as bending to lift a heavy object can deteriorate the condition of the muscles, tendons, ligament, cartilage and even bones.

Musculoskeletal Disorders or MSDs are injuries and disorders that affect the human body’s movement or musculoskeletal system (i.e. muscles, tendons, ligaments etc.).

Common Musculoskeletal  injury include:

  • Muscle/Tendon Strain
  • Ligament Sprain
  • Tension Neck Syndrome
  • Thoracic Outlet Compression
  • Rotator Cuff Tendonitis
  • Radial Tunnel Syndrome
  • Tendonitis
  • Mechanical Back Syndrome
  • Degenerative Disc Disease

The Cause of Musculoskeletal Disorders

When a worker is exposed to MSD risk factors, they begin to fatigue. When fatigue outruns their body’s recovery system, they develop a musculoskeletal imbalance. Over time, as fatigue continues to outrun recovery and the musculoskeletal imbalance persists, a musculoskeletal disorder develops.

These risk factors can be broken up into two categories: work-related (ergonomics) risk factor and individual-related risk factors.

Preventing MSD

Lots of hard work over long periods of time. I wish I could tell you it was easy, but there is truly no magic bullet to prevent these injuries. Only the hard work of implementing a  comprehensive MSD prevention process  that reduces or eliminates all causative risk factors.

While MSD prevention is hard, the key to success is very simple.

Simple, yet it must be fully embraced to get the transformational results you desire.

Prevention is proactive!  

You absolutely must get proactive and put control measures in place for every causative MSD risk factor. You already know that if MSDs are the result of a reactive approach to ergonomics and healthcare, then prevention is going to require a proactive approach to ergonomics and healthcare.

Proactive Ergonomics in Manual Material Handling

A proactive ergonomics process identifies ergonomic risk factors ergonomic risk factors and then reduces them through engineering and administrative controls before an injury occurs.

Engineering Controls: eliminate or reduce awkward postures with ergonomic modifications that seek to maintain joint range of motion to accomplish work tasks within the mid-range of motion positions for vulnerable joints. Proper ergonomic tools should be utilized that allow workers to maintain optimal joint positions.

Administrative Controls: include work practice controls, job rotation and counteractive stretch breaks.

Work Practice Controls – Work procedures that consider and reduce awkward postures should be implemented. In addition, workers should be trained on proper work technique and encouraged to accept their responsibility to use their body properly and to avoid awkward postures whenever possible.

Job Rotation – Job rotation  and job task enlargement is a way to reduce repeated and sustained awkward postures that can lead to MSD.

Counteractive Stretch Breaks – Implement rest or stretch breaks to provide an opportunity to counteract any repeated or sustained awkward postures and allow for adequate recovery time.

Remember that a proactive ergonomics process has the following characteristics:

  • Is implemented before an injury occurs
  • Is viewed as a continuous improvement process (not a one-time program or event)
  • Is tied to strategic initiatives and organizational goals
  • Gets the funding and leadership support it needs to succeed
  • Develops talent and trains up a workforce with an above average ergonomics IQ
  • Gets transformational results

Proactive Healthcare in Manual Material Handling

A proactive healthcare process doesn’t wait for a workplace athlete to develop an MSD before that workplace athlete gets the training, information and coaching they need to remain healthy.

Remember that MSDs develop over long periods of time due to microscopic wear and tear to the soft tissues every day. The earlier you provide healthcare, the better the outcome for the workplace athlete and for the company. This is proactive, or preventive, healthcare where the goal is to prevent injuries and avoid costly reactive healthcare. 

This is especially important in a setting like manual material handling because of the high stress and strain this type of work can put on the human body.

Workplace Athlete Training:
Workplace athletes should be taught proper body mechanics, good work practices, and a self-care program designed to improve both performance and recovery.

Early Intervention:
Early intervention is a proactive strategy to find early signs of fatigue and prevent fatigue from developing into an injury. When workplace athletes recognise they are experiencing fatigue, they are encouraged to report it. Once the issue is reported, self-help tools should be readily available to the employee through an experience injury prevention specialist.

Warm-up Stretching: 
Making sure your team members are physically ready for work reduces injury risk and promotes a health, safety and team culture. Implementing a Work Readiness System ensures workplace athletes are warmed up and ready for their workday.

Work Recovery Methods and Tools: 
Recovering from each workday is essential to maintaining muscle balance. Cold therapy, good sleep habits, and multiple methods of stretching exercises should be recommended and encouraged for all workplace athletes. These methods and tools should be regularly reviewed through group and one-on-one training sessions.

Remember that a proactive healthcare process has the following characteristics:

  • Is implemented before an injury occurs
  • Provides workplace athletes with injury prevention tools and techniques through group education workshops and one-on-one training
  • Delivers the best health outcome for the workplace athlete
  • Is the least costly form of healthcare for the company, providing a strong return on investment


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