Musculoskeletal Disorders - What are they? What is their impact?
Musculoskeletal disorders or diseases encompass a wide range of conditions that can vary greatly in type, severity, and prognosis. A Musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) is classified as “an injury or disorder of the muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage, and spinal discs.” The CDC (the Center for Disease Control) further specifies that Musculoskeletal conditions can impact multiple body areas or systems. Some common MSDs include arthritis, osteoporosis, and inflammatory diseases. MSDs also commonly manifest as widespread pain conditions and connective tissue diseases and disorders.
When work conditions contribute significantly to an MSD, when a condition is made worse by working conditions, or when an MSD persists longer than it otherwise would due to working conditions, this is classified as a Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorder (WMSD).
To say that the prevalence of MSDs and WMSDs is far-reaching is an understatement: Over 1.7 billion people live with MSDs; and the impact of MSDs globally, is profound: MSDs are the “highest contributor to the global need for rehabilitation.”1 Essentially, this means that MSDs account for an astonishingly high proportion of people around the world who are in need of rehabilitative services. Further, people with MSDs are at a higher risk of developing mental health issues and other diseases, including cardiovascular disease.2
The impact of these potentially debilitating conditions goes well beyond the physical: a leading study on the topic revealed that - over just one year - nearly one million people took time away from their jobs due to work-related musculoskeletal pain. Overall, the economic burden of WMSDs - including compensation costs, lost wages, and lost productivity - is estimated at around $50 million per year.3
"Over just one year, nearly one million people took time away from their jobs due to work-related musculoskeletal pain."
Naturally, these costs and consequences inevitably trickle down to communities, where everyone from local healthcare providers and caretakers, to local businesses, shoulder the social and economic burdens that accompany such a debilitating disease.
In light of the wide-ranging impact of WMSDs, it’s crucial for workers and employers, alike, to gain a better understanding of how their working environment plays a significant role in defining their long term health, and how they can take meaningful steps to reduce their exposure to workplace conditions that can contribute to MSDs.
MSDs and Exposure to Vibration at Work:
Internationally, there is a recognised relationship between exposure to vibration and MSDs, such as Hand-Arm Vibration syndrome, sometimes called “vibration white finger.” Per the National Institutes of Health, “HAV exposure is recognized as a causative factor for musculoskeletal and neuro-vascular disorders, such as . . . white-finger syndrome (Raynaud’s syndrome, also known as HAV syndrome).”
There is clear evidence that regular use of vibrating power tools can increase a worker’s risk of developing a WMSD. In an influential report on MSDs, Safe Work Australia categorises exposure to vibration as a “hazardous manual task,” which “directly stress the body” and can lead to injury. Both The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the HSE set forth examples of common working conditions - like daily exposure to vibration and performing repetitive forceful tasks - that can lead to WMSDs.
And while occasional exposure to vibrating tools or equipment may not cause musculoskeletal issues, regular or frequent exposure to vibration over long periods of time can lead to irreversible damage, and colossal costs to both employers and workers.
"Regular or frequent exposure to vibration over long periods of time can lead to irreversible damage, and colossal costs to both employers and workers."
To address WMSDs, the CDC recommends an intervention strategy that follows a three-tier hierarchy of controls and suggests that employers 1) implement engineering controls and adopt a more ergonomic approach at worksites, 2) implement administrative controls that minimise and mitigate the impact of working conditions known to cause MSDs, and 3) ensure that personal protective equipment (PPE) is functioning properly and being used correctly.
Tackling WMSDs with modern risk management solutions:
The above-recommended approaches for better addressing risk in the workplace are well-established. But these methods can be amplified - and their impact multiplied - when they’re implemented alongside a modern risk management solution.
For over two decades, Reactec has been a pioneer in prevention engineering, creating products purpose-built to help teams around the world effectively monitor and better manage their workplace risk environment, especially with regard to HAVS.
The Reactec approach to risk management is premised upon the core concepts of ease of use, real-time, personalised monitoring, and eliminating uncertainty through data-driven decision making.
By empowering teams to better understand their risk environment in real-time, R-Link - Reactec’s industry-defining workplace wearable device - makes it possible for individual workers and duty holders to take meaningful action, when it matters most: before irreversible damage is done to worker health or safety.
R-Link is designed to help workers monitor their exposure to risk from vibration via a straightforward alert system that notifies them when they’ve exceeded their personal exposure threshold. With an interface that looks and feels familiar, R-Link is designed to drive fast, easy adoption across teams looking to take a more proactive approach to workplace risk management.
R-Link is powered by Reactec’s Analytics, which give teams a 360-degree view of their risk environment with regards to vibration. Data is constantly collected by Reactec’s Analytics behind the scenes, and automatically transformed into meaningful, actionable insights that teams can use to adjust behaviour and refine controls. Crucially, this data is presented in attractive dashboards that make it easy for teams to quickly, easily interpret key data. No added time, no added complexity. And most importantly: No guesswork.
Armed with this unprecedented level of insight - including details about which vibrating tools were used by specific operators during specific time periods - teams can easily uncover details about workplace trends, patterns, or hotspots, and better understand exactly where action is needed to ensure that workers aren’t exposed to unsafe levels of risk with regards to vibration.
Effectively tackling WMSDs, like HAVS, requires a comprehensive and thoughtful approach to workplace risk management: One that seamlessly integrates into your current ways of working, and empowers your workforce to take better control over their own health and safety.
1. Cieza, A., Causey, K., Kamenov, K., Hanson, S. W., Chatterji, S., & Vos, T. (2021). Global estimates of the need for rehabilitation based on the Global Burden of Disease study 2019: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2019. The Lancet, 396(10267), 2006–2017
2. Williams A, Kamper SJ, Wiggers JH, O'Brien KM, Lee H, Wolfenden L, Yoong SL, Robson E, McAuley JH, Hartvigsen J, Williams CM. Musculoskeletal conditions may increase the risk of chronic disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies. BMC Medicine 2018;16:167