Musculoskeletal (MSK) disorders (problems affecting the bones, muscles and joints) are the biggest cause of work-related ill health in the construction industry, with 62% of all illnesses reported being MSK-related1.
This may not come as a surprise to construction workers. Aches, pains and strains in the muscles and joints are a common feeling for many after a day’s work. But sometimes these can escalate into debilitating back or neck pain, which could lead to prolonged time off work. According to the Health & Safety Executive, 6.9 million working days were lost in 2018/19 due to work-related musculoskeletal disorders2.
Musculoskeletal disorders can impact all aspects of someone’s life. Alongside the potential of prolonged time off work, they can also affect lifestyle, sport and leisure activities and even sleep.
As well as affecting the individual, musculoskeletal disorders amongst the workforce can seriously impact the business, with costs arising due to lost productivity caused by sickness absence. When you’re a small business owner, it can be particularly damaging when you or one of your key team members has to take sickness absence for a long period of time. Unlike in large businesses where colleagues can cover for someone who is off sick, unfortunately it’s not always possible in SMEs with a small team. The lost productivity caused by prolonged sickness absence could result in projects being delayed or lost, and relationships with customers being jeopardised.
However, there are ways to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injuries arising in your team.
Think before you lift
The lifting of heavy objects can be a common cause of musculoskeletal injuries amongst construction workers. It’s therefore vital that your team receives comprehensive training in proper lifting techniques. For really heavy loads, your team should have access to wheelbarrows and trolleys, or mechanical lifting equipment. Investing in the proper equipment can pay off in the long run, particularly if it results in less team members suffering from work-related back, neck and muscle problems.
The NHS advises the following points when lifting3:
- Think before you lift
- Keep the load close to your waist
- Adopt a stable position
- Ensure that you have a good hold on the load
- Don’t bend your back when lifting
- Don’t twist when you lift
- Look ahead when lifting
- Move smoothly and avoid sudden movements
- Know your limits
- Put the load down and then adjust
The Mayo Clinic has created this useful slideshow to demonstrate the correct lifting technique.
Your team should also ask for help from colleagues if they have a particularly large or heavy load to lift.