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Preventing Musculoskeletal disorders

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are preventable and manageable. The HSE aims to reduce risks associated with activities that pose MSD risk, for example, manual handling and people handling, and display screen equipment work. Managers and employees taking an integrated approach to risk assessment and promoting a preventative culture is essential in managing these risks.

What are MSDs?

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) have over 150 diagnoses that affect the locomotor system:

  • muscles
  • bones
  • joints and
  • associated tissues such as tendons and ligaments

MSDs include work-related upper limb disorders (WRULDs) and repetitive strain injuries (RSIs).

Symptoms may include

  • pain
  • discomfort
  • numbness
  • tingling in the affected area

Symptoms can differ in severity. This can range from mild and periodic, to severe, chronic and debilitating.

MSDs can be very detrimental to your quality of life and ability to work. They are one of the most common causes of disability, sick leave and early retirement.

Causes of work-related musculoskeletal disorders

The causes of work-related musculoskeletal disorders include:

  • poor posture
  • repetitive movements
  • poor manual handling practices (lifting heavy or bulky loads, pushing, pulling or dragging heavy loads)
  • work with display screen equipment
  • awkward movements
  • sustained or excessive forceful movements
  • carrying out a task for a long time
  • direct mechanical pressure on body tissue
  • vibrations and
  • cold work environment

Preventing injury

Adequate risk assessment is essential in preventing MSDs. You should identify work practices that may cause MSDs, and use the risk assessment process to reduce the level of risk. Completing and communicating risk assessments is important in managing MSDs and preventing injuries to your staff.

Key parts of the working day for many employees includes manual handling, people handling and use of display screen equipment

You can find out how to prevent MSDs in the policies and guidelines associated with these activities:

Manual handling policy and guidelines

The manual handling policy aims to reduce the risks associated with manual handling and people handling. Each service must have an operational plan to ensure this policy is implemented.

The manual handling policy is supported by the guidance on managing the manual handling issues of service users with bariatric needs

Manual and people handling risk assessments

Manual and people handling risk assessments with provision of controls is a key component to managing manual handling risks.

There are four risk assessments for different work tasks:

Generic risk assessment and Generic risk assessment fillable form template

This is an assessment of the general situation in the ward or department and takes account of the work environment and work activities.

Task-specific risk assessment

Where the ward or department risk assessment identifies that a manual handling activity presents a risk of injury, the activity must be assessed in greater detail to determine the controls required.

People handling risk assessment

The aim of the people handling risk assessment and handling plan is to clarify safe methods of handling for each service user. This includes developing a handling care plan to avoid injury to staff and service users.

In certain circumstances there may be a need for a specialist ergonomic assessment for clinical, medical and complex scenarios. The NHSF have procured a contract for these services. For more information on the OGP contract holders contact the NHSF helpdesk on 1800 420 420.

Dynamic risk assessment

This is an informal, on-the-spot, undocumented risk assessment. Every employee is required to complete this dynamic risk assessment before completing a manual or people handling task. This risk assessment enables you to identify if the task is within your capability.

Manual handling training

Manual handling training must form part of the plan to reduce the risks associated with manual handling activities.

Display screen equipment guidelines

Display screen equipment guidelines outlines how to manage risks associated with the use of DSE workstations.

Managing work-related musculoskeletal disorders - keeping healthy

If you have any musculoskeletal symptoms, let your manager know. Your manager will refer you to Occupational Health for assessment and support. You can also self-refer to Occupational Health. They may recommend specific workplace accommodations to enable you to continue to work.

Post injury and rehabilitation

If you have an accident or incident that may result in any musculoskeletal symptoms, report it in accordance with the Incident Management Framework 2020

Early intervention is key to a better recovery. If you have been injured at work, your manager should review the circumstances, causes and actions to be taken.

In some circumstances, it may be necessary to engage the services of an ergonomist to support this process.

If you have been out of work due to an MSD, support and information is available from the HSE'S rehabilitation service and returning to work from sick leave booklet (PDF, 625KB, 12 pages)

Resources to support you

Catering role information sheet (PDF, 1MB, 2 pages)

Clinical role information sheet (PDF, 1MB, 2 pages)

Display screen equipment users information sheet (PDF, 1MB, 2 pages)

Laboratory role information sheet (PDF, 1MB, 2 pages)

Management of MSDs and keeping healthy (PDF, 1MB, 2 pages)

Post injury and rehabilitation (PDF, 1MB, 2 pages)

Preventing injury and MSDs (PDF, 1MB, 2 pages)


Get moving at work poster (PDF, 698KB, 1 page)

Muscle stretches poster (Word, 306KB, 1 page)

Working with MSD infographic (PDF. 576KB, 1 page)

Short films showing NAPO preventing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)

Contact HSE Health and Safety helpdesk

Use the Health and Safety self-service portal or

Phone: 1800 420 420

Monday to Friday 10.30am to 12 noon and 2.00pm to 3.30pm