Preventive action and early identification
This section outlines the legal context for
and the various methods for carrying out relevant risk
Help to identify upper limb
Help to identify more general MSD
How can I apply ergonomics in
Ensuring good reporting
The Health and Safety at
Work ect Act 1974 requires employers to secure the health,
safety and welfare of employees at work. This includes providing a
safe place of work, safe systems of work, and information and
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (as
amended) require suitable and sufficient assessments of health
and safety risks at work to be carried out, so that the necessary
preventive and protective measures can be taken, including health
More relevant legislation
The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work outlines a
variety of European Directives which have become law in the UK.
These can be found here…
Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998
the provision of safe work equipment and its safe use
Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations
Aim to ensure that workplaces meet the health, safety
and welfare needs of each member of the workforce, which may
include people with disabilities
Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992
establish measures to: avoid hazardous manual handling operations
so far as reasonable practicable; make a suitable and sufficient
assessment of any hazardous manual handling operation that cannot
be avoided; and reduce the risk of injury from those operations so
far as reasonably practicable
Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations
These regulations seek to ensure that where the risk
cannot be controlled by other means, personal protective equipment
(PPE) is to be supplied. Regulations also require that PPE
should be suitable for the task, adequately maintained and
correctly worn. PPE means all equipment (including clothing
that protects against weather) which is intended to be worn or held
by a person at work and which protects against one or more risks to
health or safety, and any addition or accessory designed to meet
Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations
Established the carrying out of a suitable and
sufficient analysis of workstations and a solution-focused risk
Discrimination Act 2005
The Act gives rights to people who have or have had a disability
which makes it difficult for them to carry out day-to-day
activities. The disability could be physical, sensory or mental. It
must also be substantial and have a long-term effect, ie it must
last or be expected to last for at least 12 months
The Equality Act
2010 consolidates, harmonises and expands on existing
discrimination law. Find out more on the
Equality and Human Rights Commission website.
You can get more information on health and safety legislation on
the HSE website.
The HSE’s Upper limb disorders
in the workplace can be downloaded for free from their website.
This document outlines how a positive management approach can
enable managers and employees to minimise the risks from upper limb
disorders. The HSE suggest a seven-stage approach to preventing and
managing ULDs in the workplace:
1. Understand the issues and commit to action
2. Create the right organisational environment
3. Assess the risk of ULDs in the workplace
4. Reduce the risk of ULDs
5. Educate and inform the workforce
6. Manage any episodes of ULDs
7. Carry out regular checks on programme effectiveness
It’s good for people to use their bodies at work, so it’s
important not to give the message that working means harm. However,
in some instances people can overload their musculoskeletal system
at work, without any symptoms being evident in the early stages.
This could be from sitting for too long or from doing what might
traditionally be thought of as ‘heavy’ jobs. Therefore, it’s
important to carry out risk assessments across the work site and to
identify any possible musculoskeletal hazards to which the
workforce is being exposed to prevent any cases occurring.
Risk assessments for MSD risks could be manual handling risk
assessments, display screen equipment risk assessments, general
ergonomics assessments or, specifically, upper limb disorder risk
assessments. Various risk assessment tools are outlined below,
including some on the HSE website.
As with any health and safety issue, assessment isn’t enough –
it should be followed by action. See the HSE website for
Help to identify upper limb risks
The HSE has a leaflet on ULDs and
how to manage them, as well as a leaflet on using display screen
For a more detailed risk assessment, refer to HSE's publication
Upper limb disorders
in the workplace (HSG60). The assessment risk filter and
worksheets in HSG60 are available free on the HSE
RULA (rapid upper limb
This is an assessment for ergonomic
investigations of workplaces where work-related upper limb
disorders (WRULDs) have been reported. You can carry out an
assessment online or offline.
repetitive tasks (ART) tool
The assessment of repetitive
tasks (ART) tool is designed to help you risk assess tasks that
require repetitive movement of the upper limbs (arms and hands). It
helps you assess some of the common risk factors in repetitive work
that contribute to the development of ULDs.
Help to identify more general MSD risks
Getting to grips with
manual handling is a good starting point, and there are
sheets from the HSE that cover manual handling in various
industries. These give basic guidance and highlight other sources
National Institute for
Occupational Safety and Health lifting equation
equation can be used to assess manual handling operations. The tool
and other information are located at the link above.
The manual handling
assessment chart (MAC) tool is useful for identifying risk from
various manual handling activities. The HSE states: ‘Using the MAC
will help with the initial screening of possible high risk manual
handling activities within the workplace. However, the MAC is NOT
appropriate for all manual handing operations, and does NOT
comprise a full risk assessment. Therefore it is unlikely to be
acceptable if relied upon alone. To be “suitable and sufficient”, a
risk assessment will normally need to take account of additional
information such as individual capabilities (factors), and should
conform to the requirements in the MHOR 1992.’
OWAS (ovako working posture
This tool is used to evaluate the postural load on
people in different work environments. The link above will take you
to the tool and contacts for more help.
QEC (quick exposure check)
This tool is used for the
assessment of exposure to risks for work-related musculoskeletal
disorders. The link above will take you to the QEC and support
REBA (rapid entire body
REBA is used to assess the entire body
postures for the risk of work-related musculoskeletal disorders.
The link above will take you to the Cornell University REBA
worksheet and a presentation explaining how to use it.
Assessing whole body
Exposure to whole body vibration can be linked
with the development of back pain. Industry-specific
leaflets on vibration are available from the HSE.
Exposure to hand–arm vibration has been linked
with the development of certain upper limb disorders.
leaflets on vibration are available from the HSE.
Choices gives advice as to what can cause back pain and has a
helpful list of what to look for when surveying the work site.
Identifying unreported symptoms
Employees can have symptoms of an MSD but fail to report them.
You can find out if this is the case in your work site by carrying
out a survey on:
- people wearing joint supports
- changes that people have made to their workstation, such as
adding padding, tape, cushions, using different seating and so
In addition, you could carry out a body mapping exercise across
the site. This encourages employees to note body parts that are
causing them pains, aches or discomfort. For more information, see
Public and Commercial Services Union site, or the
Bakers, Food and Allied
Workers Union site. A
body mapping leaflet is available from the Union of Shop,
Distributive and Allied Workers, and you can also get information
from Hazards Magazine. Body
mapping is a form of health monitoring. This is
described in more detail on the HSE website.
How can I apply ergonomics in my workplace?
Making sure that the workplace is well set up in terms of
ergonomics can help prevent MSDs. The HSE leaflet Understanding ergonomics
at work explains how to fit the task to the person who’s doing
the job. Another free leaflet Aching arms (or RSI) in
small businesses explains how to manage upper limb risks.
As an additional aspect of managing MSDs, you can encourage your
employees to look after themselves, particularly when it comes to
pain. You can get a range of information and training materials
on back care from IOSH.
Ensuring good reporting mechanisms
It’s generally accepted that the earlier you deal with an MSD
issue the better. In order to make this happen, you need to make
sure that the workforce is aware of what the risk factors are, what
symptoms to look for and how to report them should any arise.
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