8 Key Ingredients to a Successful Musculoskeletal Disorder Management

Musculoskeletal disorder management is no fun, right?

But it must be done.

Complaints. Assessments. Reviews. Occupational health referrals. Sick notes. Trainings. Reports. The list is endless. There’s much to do and you want to be good at musculoskeletal disorder management.

It can feels like you can’t catch your breath. How can you get your team onboard? Or even Management? What kind of training would they need? Do you need help or can you just rough it out all by yourself?  How can you reduce the risk of musculoskeletal disorder in your team?

Why Musculoskeletal Disorder Management is Important

It’s like the main course of your meal.

The single biggest cause of injury and illness in the workplace world over. It needs to be cooked (managed) just right. If not managed correctly, it can have a detrimental impact to your business;

  • Injury costs skyrockets
  • Staff absence rate shoots up
  • Productivity plummets
  • Employee quits
  • Morale drops
  • Bottom line suffers

It doesn’t have to be like that. Let me show you want you can do to boost your management up a notch. Thereby, creating the right working environment for your team.

Just like cooking, musculoskeletal disorder management needs;

  1. a preparation time
  2. cooking time and 
  3. resting time (improve the flavour)


1.      Get Your Policies and Procedure in a Row

get policy in a row for musculoskeletal disorder management
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Don’t you just love it when you’re about to cook and you lay out all your ingredients? All arranged in a row and easy to reach. Spices, vegetables, oil, leaves. All chopped, grounded and flaked. Ready to breathe life into your meal.

The first step to firing up your musculoskeletal disorder management is to get your policies and procedures in place.

Outline what your management would entails;

  • Who is in charge?
  • What do you aim to achieve?
  • How would you help your team?
  • Who should they report to?
  • When should they report?
  • What should they report?
  • What you must do when they report their injuries and pain?
  • How quickly you would respond?
  • How would you respond?
  • What teams would be involved, e.g. supervisor, HR, Health and Safety, Occupational Health team?
  • Would you send a letter to their physician?
  • What kind of support would you offer?

            Write it out. Make it plain, short and simple. Make it available and accessible for all.

‘’The more transparent and easy your policy and procedure is, the higher the sign ups would be.’’

2.       Marinate Your Musculoskeletal Disorder Management Programme

Who doesn’t like a barbeque? The smoky smell. The sizzling sound. Hmm, the finger-licking taste.

But there is more to the taste that meets the eye.

12 hours ago. Salt, pepper, oil, thyme, garlic and lime juice where mixed and rubbed thoroughly into the chicken. Then left in the fridge to marinate.

‘’Wouldn’t salt and pepper be enough?’’

I guess so. However, these other spices, make your taste buds come alive.

That’s the same with senior management getting involved.

Employees always buy in, when management is visibly involved. They want to see their senior managers, CEO, MD, Directors get down and dirty. Preaching safe working. Participating in toolbox talks. Chairing the health week. Taking part in the office health challenges.


3.       Never Stop Marketing to Your Employees

Ever heard of the ‘Rule of Seven’?

It’s a marketing principle that states that, ‘your prospects need to come across your offer at least 7 times before they notice your offer and take action’.

Yep! That’s right. Seven times before they take just one action.

For example, click a button, talk about it, see someone, report it. Seven for one.

How many actions do you want them to take? Then you better get in the habit of lavishing them. Communicate your MSD programme in more ways than one.  Create as many touch points you can.

Could you use social media?

Intranet? Bulletins? Newsletters? Poster? Good old email?

Team meetings? Toolbox talks? Safety talks?

Make them aware of what you are offering. Make it easy for them to report injuries, make suggestions, inform, teach and receive feedbacks.

What touch points can you create today to engage your team?

4.      Train Your Employees about Musculoskeletal Disorder

training employees improves management
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If you were to create your perfect curry powder, what would you need? A teaspoon of coriander, a pinch of turmeric, ½ teaspoon of cumin? How would you like it? Hot or mild?           

Training your staff with the right programme is like blending your curry powder. What type of training do they need? How often would they need to be retrained? How would you roll it out? Who would be needing what?

Postural Awareness training. Manual Handling Training. Mandatory Safety Training. DSE (VDU) Training, Musculoskeletal Disorder Awareness Training. Ergonomic Awareness Training. Manager’s guide to Musculoskeletal Disorder Training.

Get them up to speed. Educate them on the risks inherent in their work. Inform them of the controls in place to protect them. And instruct them on the common symptoms that could lead to injury.

5.       Set Up Risk Controls

risk control in musculoskeletal disorder management is like salting your meal
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Salting is one of the oldest method of preserving food. It draws out water from the food to prevent bacteria from spreading and spoiling the food.

So too does risk controls. Risk controls, according to HSE (UK), are the reasonable steps you take to prevent and mitigate hazards or things that may cause harm to your workers e.g. tools they use, working environment, workstation, tasks etc.

Set up controls to reduce the risk (likelihood) of musculoskeletal disorder occurring in all facets your workplace. A good place to start is when you’re designing job tasks.

Jobs that are regarded as high risk should either be eliminated, modified or controlled. For example, heavy manual handling tasks could be;

  • eliminated (automation),
  • modified (assisted lifts e.g. trolley or
  • controlled (task performed once per shift)     

Another way to identify high risk tasks is when your employees complain of pain and injury. For example, sitting in an office chair with no lumbar support. If a couple of workers complain of back or neck pain and you have already conducted workstation assessments. Then probably it’s time you replace all the office chairs.

Controls don’t have to cost a lot. Start simple:

Can you pace out the work? Giving enough recovery time?

Can the job be broken down?

Be a 2-man (woman) job?


A tool or equipment used as support?

The tasks alternated with another?

Start simple and look for ways to eliminate, reduce and manage the risks.

6.       Regularly Evaluate Job Tasks and Conduct Risk Assessments

Are you like me that never follow recipes to the latter? (well, unless I’m baking). I like adding my signature to dishes. I switch around the spices. Thyme for oregano, mint for basil, parsley for tarragon. ½ teaspoon instead of one. 7 bay leaves instead of 3. Lots of hot chilli sauce (although I have heard they aren’t enough, in some quarters).

The only way I would know that I have Ugo’s flavour is if I taste it. If I’m not getting the flavour I want, I add a bit of this, a pinch of that, a dash of those, until it’s perfect.

That’s what task analysis and risk assessments are.

Your employees complain of pain and you conduct a risk assessment. You could also evaluate the task, perform physical demand analysis, manual handling assessment, ergonomic assessments, product evaluation etc.  

You constantly analyse how the tasks are performed. If they are high risk, you modify the task. You do regular surveys on the working temperature or noise levels. If too high, you find ways to control risks.

You should get in the habit of evaluating, analysing and assessing regularly. Be it monthly, quarterly, when called upon, or annually. You would be constantly churning out hazards that could cause musculoskeletal disorder. Making your workers safe and healthy.

  • Again, you can start with a simple checklist or matrix.
  • If not right, proceed with a more detailed evaluation.
  • And if they continue to complain and you can’t identify the risks, involve a specialist. Maybe , an occupational health and safety specialist, ergonomist, physiotherapist, noise specialist or medical pracitioner.

Sometimes, you might need to do a whole site evaluation when a good handful of workers are complaining of pain. Dont panic! It’s easier than you think. Do the same with a single employee. However, assess a couple more workers, 2, 5 or 10 based on team size and complexity of the analysis.

elements of musculoskeletal disorder management
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7.      Garnish Your Management with an Occupational Health Team

garnish your management with OH Team
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It’s inevitable. Truth is, irrespective of the whole gamut of preventive controls in place, your employees would still develop musculoskeletal disorder. In as much as you have a plan to evaluate and control risks. Similarly, have one to repair and restore your injured employee back to optimal health.          

Sprinkle the fairy dust. Garnish your employees with restorative treatment. And wow them back to work. Your fairy dusts include Physiotherapists, OH Nurses, OH Physicians, Occupational Therapists, Ergonomists, Kinesiologists, Massage Therapist etc.

You can keep them on retainer or ad-hoc. Or work with them through your Worker’s Compensation Scheme or Insurance. Either way, let your employees know you are actively involved in their care. You are willing to talk, send reports and letters, implement recommendations, make alterations and collaborate.

8.      Measure the Progress of Your Musculoskeletal Disorder Management

keep measuring your progress for a 5- star management rating
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The meal has been served. You’ve served up your best version of the dish. It’s now up to the tasters. Would they like it? Would you hear the ‘oohs and hmmms’? Or would the plate be returned, dish uneaten?

How would they rate your dish? A 5- star, you’ve done well? Or, a 1-star, much improvement needed?  What did they like? What didn’t they like? Was it too bland or too spicy? Have they lost some taste buds or salivated for more?

‘’The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” Willem Camden, 1605

 Furthermore, you need to take stock of your musculoskeletal disorder management programme.

What metric would you be evaluating?

How often? monthly, quarterly or yearly?

Number of injuries.

Number of MSD-related absences?

How early are musculoskeletal disorder reported? At the onset or when they are off-sick?

What type of musculoskeletal disorder are common in your workplace?

Who are affected? What team or department?

Look at the trends. The lags. The drivers. Can you make adjustments? What can you do better? What needs to improve? Who would benefit? Is the process to cumbersome? Can it be simplified?

management quotes
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Don’t Get Overwhelmed

 Flavour comes in all sorts. Some zesty. Others savoury. Tangy. Bitter. Sweet. Hot. Tart. And they all serve different purposes. However, when blended correctly, they create a delicious, mouth-watering meal.

I’m guessing when you started cooking, you started with the flavours you knew. The ones you could never go wrong with. And as you got more confident (i.e. if you got more confident), you became adventurous. You tried out more flavours to spice up your meals.

Likewise, do the same when starting out your Musculoskeletal Disorder Management. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Salt and pepper would do. What do you have now in place or what can you implement quickly? Can you draw up a simple procedure and policy? Can you train up an in-house risk assessor? Can you get upper management to champion?

If you need help setting up your management process. You need to get ‘Managing Musculoskeletal Disorder Starter Guide’. A 6-step guide to mapping out a streamlined process of investigating reported musculoskeletal injuries.

Managing Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders (WMSD) can be hard work. However, the rewards are enormous, certainly yielding a healthy workforce.

Have you set up your musculoskeletal disorder management process? Did you need help or did it yourself? What did you find easy to implement?

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By Ugo Akpala-Alimi

Ugo is a Workplace Musculoskeletal Health Expert. She is a Chartered Physiotherapist with a masters degree in Ergonomics. 15+ years' experience. Treated 9,000+ patients. Conducted work assessments++. Worked with companies including BP, UKPN. On a mission to help managers reduce work-related musculoskeletal disorders and create 'ouchless' workplaces. Hasn't yet gotten the magic elixir for injury-resistant workers (still busy concocting).


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