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Top 5 Ways to End Up with a Musculoskeletal Disorder (MSD)

By Safeopedia Staff
Published: October 9, 2018 | Last updated: December 15, 2019 04:21:29
Key Takeaways

Getting an ergonomic injury isn't difficult. Here are the easiest ways to do it.

If you're looking to develop an ergonomic injury, you've come to the right place. We're going to tell you five of the best ways to develop musculoskeletal disorder. If pain and discomfort are what you're after, you're in luck: they're just a few mistakes away.

Ergonomics 101

You've probably heard the term "ergonomics," but many people only have a vague idea of what it means.


Ergonomics is a scientific discipline that studies how to design a work environment that won't injure or cause other stresses to workers' bodies.

In practice, it means that the designs and operations of machinery and equipment should be adjusted to the needs of the workers, and not the other way around. When a worker sustains an injury when operating a particular machine, the problem is often poor ergonomics.

The result is often developing a musculoskeletal disorder such as back pain, join pain, tendinitis, and carpal tunnel syndrome.

5 Ways to Give Yourself a Musculoskeletal Disorder

Exerting Excessive Force

Excessive force can be an ergonomic risk when workers are lifting heavy objects, pushing or pulling heavy loads, manually pouring heavy materials, or attemtping to maintain control of equipment or tools such as a jackhammer or drill.

One rule of thumb in ergonomics is that workers should never carry, push, pull, pour, or handle any object whose weight is greater than their own. In other words, if the worker weighs 145 pounds, they shouldn't manually handle something heavier than 145 pounds. OSHA goes a step further, recommending that any load that weighs more than 75 pounds should be carried by more than one person.

Preventing Excessive Force Injuries

Machines and equipment can lighten the load. Trolleys or pushcarts can be used to to move heavy loads without requiring excessive force. Replacing power tools that are difficult to handle or hold in place with more ergonomic alternatives, or rotating the workers who have to use them so nobody has to handle them for an extended period of time.

Performing Repetitive Tasks

When a worker performs the same motion over and over in the same manner, especially without rest or break periods, they put themselves at risk of an MSD. This is common among workers in manufacturing; however, MSDs can also occur from less physical work, like performing repetitive tasks on a computer.

Preventing Repetitive Task Injuries


The best way to prevent these injuries is to break up the repetitious work and introduce some variety into the workflow. Make a conscious effort to change posture and activities more often instead of waiting until they become uncomfortable.

If possible, workers should be allowed to take regular breaks. Even short breaks can be very helpful if taken frequently enough.

Working in an Awkward Position

Working in an awkward position puts a significant amount of stress on the body. An awkward position doesn't have to be an unusual one. We're not just talking about twisting yourself up into a pretzel, but routine activities like reaching above shoulder height, kneeling, squatting, leaning, using a tool that keeps the wrist bent, or twisting the torso while lifting.

Preventing Position-Based Injuries

When it comes to prolonged or repeated awkward positioning, the only way to really avoid injury is to avoid putting your body in these positions. For instance, for work that involves repeatedly reaching over head, use a step ladder to reach the same height without injury. Tasks requiring squatting or kneeling should be done while sitting on a stool whenever possible. Training on proper lifting technique is essential to prevent injuries from twisting the torso (learn more in Safe Lifting: Don't Put Your Back on the Line).

Localized Pressure

Pressing part of the body against hard or sharp edges, or using the hand as a hammer, can lead to pain and injury.

Preventing Pressure Injuries

Preventing this injury is all about awareness. Many workers know they should keep their posture straight and avoid repetitive motion, but few of them know that applying prolonged pressure to the body can have adverse effects.

Pressing the body against hard edges is usually entirely avoidable; it's just a matter of knowing what kind of damage it can cause.

Cold Temperatures

Cold temperature is another one of those things most people don't associate with ergonomic issues. But a few separate studies have found that workers in low temperature environments will eventually complain of pain in the lower back and knees. The complaints get more frequent as the temperature gets lower and the time of exposure gets longer (for related reading, see Cold Stress: Your Winter Safety Guide).

Preventing Cold-Related Ergonomic Injuries

Naturally, the best way to prevent cold-related ergonomic injuries is to make sure workers are protected from the cold. Rubberized booths, thick jackets, and warm hats can all help workers stay warm and keep injury at bay.

As with other types of ergonomic injuries, administrative controls can also go a long way. Rotating worker duties so that no single person spends an extended period of time in the cold environment can prevent these injuries. While it's not always possible, it is certainly worth considering.

Ergonomic Injuries Are Preventable Injuries

And there you have it. Five easy and simple ways you can succumb to an ergonomic injury.

All it takes is a little carelessness, improper equipment, and extended work without breaks or task rotation and you too could wind up injured.


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Written by Safeopedia Staff

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At Safeopedia, we think safety professionals are unsung superheroes in many workplaces. We aim to support and celebrate these professionals and the work they do by providing easy access to occupational health and safety information, and by reinforcing safe work practices.

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