What is musculoskeletal pain and what are the factors that might cause it.

The construction industry has become the number one industry for ACC claims with strains and sprains, (also known as Musculoskeletal Disorders or MSDs), making up a whopping 57% of the problem. 


Musculoskeletal pain refers to pain felt in the muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons, or nerves, and you can feel this pain in just one area of the body, or throughout your whole body. The pain can range from mild, to severe enough to interfere with your day-to-day life. 


The residential construction industry is currently booming and subsequently the ACC claim numbers and costs for strains and sprains are highest in this area. There are numerous risk factors to address: Time pressure, ageing workforce, awkward postures for a start. We also need to change mindsets that pain and injury are unavoidable and make our younger workforce understand the cumulative nature of these problems- something that most ‘broken´ builders still working past 50 years of age know very well already.


It is well known that there are a range of factors that contribute to MSDs. Its not just about a single factor such as the lifting technique (although for industries such as scaffolding and roofing handling techniques are an important factor).


The research firmly points to four groups of factors we need to tackle when addressing MSDs in construction:

  • Physical factors, such as:
    • Heavy loads, 
    • Lack of equipment
    • Challenging environments
    • Poor layout
    • Forces, 
    • Repetition 
    • Awkward postures 


  • Individual factors such as:
    • Gender / Age
    • Fitness / Flexibility / Strength
    • Diet / Hydration
    • Weight
    • Attitude


  • Psychosocial factors such as: 
    • Communication
    • Relationships
    • Stress and tension
    • Time pressure
    • Financial strain
    • Management support and the amount of control workers have over their work tasks


  • Work Organisation factors such as:
    • Work hours / Time pressure
    • Lack of help
    • No breaks
    • Poor work planning
    • Training / Skill level
    • Peaks and troughs


It may not surprise you that physical factors often take most of the blame and focus as their connection is easy to understand, measure and observe. There are also proven strategies to overcome physical factors such as machinery, equipment and task modifications. Combining the other factors into your approach is where the construction industry will get the most benefit. Understanding how these factors can combine and influence each other to cause problems will be crucial.


The most common solutions to dealing with MSD are:

  • Micropauses and position changes
  • Task rotation
  • Stretch warm-up and cool down
  • Cardio and strength fitness/flexibility
  • Stress management
  • Backcare
  • Communication
  • Work planning
  • Early reporting


We will dive deeper into what treatment might look like and prevention tips, and the unseen costs associated with MSD as we continue our Musculoskeletal Series, so stay tuned!


Construction Health and Safety New Zealand (CHASNZ) is planning to work with specialist trades such as building, plumbing, painting, scaffolding and electricians to develop industry-led programmes to reduce and manage MSDs. This will involve expert assistance and engagement of all the stakeholders to identify the factors and develop and deliver industry-led solutions. If you would like to be involved, have ideas and stories to share or just want to contribute to these programs, you can contact advisory@hazardco.com.

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