Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), defined as injuries affecting the muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments and nerves, are something we talk about every day in occupational health care — and for good reason.
Not only do MSDs make up the single largest classification of work-related injuries, but they also have the unfortunate distinction of being the most-cited cause of worker “disability, involuntary retirement and limitation to gainful employment.”
Add to that the direct and indirect costs employers incur annually — up to $50 billion; MSDs require an average of 14 days away from work, and a single workers’ compensation claim comes in at around $30,000 — and a healthy case can be made for committing or redirecting resources toward the prevention of workplace MSDs.
Finding Pain Points
Mitigating MSDs in your workplace starts with identifying risk factors and potential causes. Unlike workplace injuries associated with an isolated mishap — like a slip, trip or fall — MSDs (also referred to as ergonomic injuries) may develop gradually and worsen over time due to repetitive use or awkward positioning.
For example, employees who routinely perform overhead work may eventually develop a type of MSD known as tension neck syndrome. In other cases, an MSD can be more acute, perhaps caused by overexerting the muscles during a heavy lift.
When possible, eliminating these risks factors is the most effective solution, followed by instituting engineering controls and administrative controls, such as limiting the employee’s hours performing the offending job duties. Assistive wearable devices, physical activity and stretching plans, and cognitive processes — like counseling or motivational coaching — have also proven to be beneficial for reducing MSD rates, particularly when applied in conjunction with one another.
To bring more awareness to the critical need for reducing MSD rates, the National Safety Council (NSC) and Amazon teamed up to develop the MSD Solutions Lab in 2021. As part of its mission, the MSD Solutions Lab actively conducts and supports MSD-prevention research efforts, identifies and innovates unique solutions, and engages with experts to achieve scalable results that can be felt by all.
In 2022, the MSD Solutions Lab launched the MSD Pledge, a global initiative calling upon all employers to reduce occupational MSDs and create safer outcomes for workers. By taking the MSD Pledge, employers commit to working toward a widespread reduction in MSDs by:
- Analyzing the causes of MSDs and investing in solutions and practices that reduce risks to workers
- Leveraging innovations and sharing learnings that improve safety practices
- Building a culture of safety where everyone, at every level, is accountable for the safety and health of workers
- Collectively reducing MSD risks and subsequent injuries across the pledge community by 25% by 2025
A Step in the Right Direction
With a nearly 20% decrease in MSDs realized in the United States between 2011 and 2020, there is much to be lauded — but room for improvement still exists. Consider taking the MSD Pledge and joining the more than 160 organizations that have chosen to demonstrate their commitment to employee safety and health by minimizing the incidence and impact of MSDs.
Giovanni Gallara has been a member of the National Safety Council MSD Solutions Lab Advisory Council since 2021, working alongside other health and safety experts, clinicians, researchers, government representatives and corporate colleagues across all industries to reduce global MSD rates through research, advocacy, and engagement. In his role, Gallara shares his expertise on insights and solutions that an occupational medicine practice can contribute to prevent and address workplace MSDs, specifically focusing on the importance of injury prevention, worker readiness testing, worker conditioning, ergonomics, partnerships with employers to establish return-to-work programs, and evidence-based early and integrated care delivery for injured workers to optimize outcomes and expedite a safe return to work.