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How to Boost Productivity by Reducing Musculoskeletal Disorders in the Workplace

Are you losing precious productivity due to employee back pain and musculoskeletal-related injury? Is your workplace acting to reduce existing conditions that stop employees from carrying out their roles?

Back pain is one of the main causes of workplace absence in the UK, resulting in over 12 million work days lost each year. And while many back problems aren’t directly related to working practices, the HSE states that employers must protect workers from potential workplace risks that cause or worsen back pain or Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs).

That’s quite a responsibility. 

Back Pain at Work Facts


Are you doing everything you can to protect your workforce?

This article offers practical advice and recommendations to help ensure your business complies with HSE regulations and keep your workforce on the floor; not tied up in bed.   

What causes back pain and MSDs in the workplace?

We often associate back pain and MSDs with manual labour, but — actually — there are risks involved in most work roles. 

However, some work tasks commonly cause or worsen back pain and MSDs, such as:

  • Lifting and carrying awkward or heavy loads
  • Pushing, dragging, or pulling heavy equipment or machinery
  • Repetition, such as packing
  • Bending, stooping, or crouching
  • Twisting, reaching, or stretching
  • Remaining in a single position for prolonged periods
  • Working when fatigued or beyond physical capability
  • Working with display screens
  • Driving over rough ground or long distances — exacerbated by poor seating that can’t be adjusted
  • Operating heavy equipment or machinery

And remember, even relatively sedentary office roles include some repetitive movements that could aggravate an existing condition, such as twisting and reaching or repetitive strain. 

Your Responsibilities as an Employer

According to the HSE, employers are obligated to risk-assess and avoid work activities likely to cause back pain wherever reasonably practicable. And where potential aggravation is unavoidable, you must minimise the potential impact on your employees. 

Of course, you can help prevent injury through effective training to ensure employees follow safe working practices. You can equip employees with appropriate best practices that help minimise the possibility of back pain or MSD-related injury. 

But there's also a wide range of affordable measures you can take that help to protect your workforce in environments likely to result in injury. 

How to minimise back pain and MSD-related injury from standing

Many jobs demand that workers spend extended periods on their feet. For example, workers on factory lines remain standing for many hours to permit maximum dexterity during their role's execution, resulting in backache, joint pain, swollen feet, and fatigue. 

And when workers are tired, they're more likely to take shortcuts or neglect H&S procedures designed to help prevent injury. 

Remember, back pain and MSD-related injury results in 12 million days of lost productivity each year in the UK. And workplace illness costs UK businesses a staggering £16.2bn each year. 

So, wherever you can make changes to protect your workforce, you should. 

Risks to standing workers

Fatigue in the workplace is equally likely to occur from standing in a single spot for hours as lifting, carrying, and other forms of physical exertion. 

And these days, many office workers and home-based employees opt for standing desks that help minimise the common posture problems associated with sitting at a standard office desk. However, voluntarily standing, again, puts employees at risk of standing-based injury. 

So, we recommend investing in anti-fatigue matting for factory workers and employees who stand all day. Designed to cushion the feet, super-affordable anti-fatigue matting encourages continual muscle movement, which improves blood flow to the legs and joints while boosting energy.

Learn More: What are Anti-Fatigue Mats?

And for workers at standing desks, anti-fatigue mats boost the benefits of standing while working but also minimise the impact of hard floors beneath the feet. Made from premium-quality high-density foam, standing desk mats are tough and durable, even against stiletto heels. 

Worker using a Standing Desk Mat

Learning to lift

Of course, it’s not always possible to fully negate back pain- and MSD risk in some working environments, such as:

  • Construction
  • Warehouses and Factories
  • Mechanics
  • Childcare
  • Healthcare 
  • Manual labourer (plumbers/electricians, etc.)
  • Driving — long-haul/forklift, etc.

In these environments, it’s essential to train employees in safer working practices, especially while handling and operating machinery, lifting, and interacting with equipment. 

How to lift properly at work

Source: elevatephysio.com

But there are other ways you can avoid injury risk:

  • Guaranteeing regular work breaks
  • Providing appropriate uniforms to accommodate hot, wet, or cold working environments
  • Record incidents and injuries (and act upon them wherever possible)

Appropriate workshop seating and stools

The professions most likely to cause back- or joint-related injury demand many physical and/or repetitive motions. And — in most cases — those physical interactions are unavoidable. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to negate the risks for your employees. 

In workshops, you can provide appropriate seating and stools, ergonomically adjustable to suit each worker's height and build. Designed for use in demanding environments, a workshop stool or chair must be robust enough to accommodate the dexterity demands of each worker.  

A workshop seat or stool should be:

  • Height-adjustable
  • Robust — built to sustain repetitive movement
  • Flexible enough to facilitate (rather than hamper) appropriate movement (as demanded by the role)

How to avoid back pain and MSD injury in the workplace

In most cases, it’s possible to avoid aggravating or causing physical strain in the workplace — it’s typically a case of providing anti-fatigue mats, appropriate seating, and training to ensure employees are safe. 

But, of course, training only goes so far — it’s also essential to monitor employee compliance, which helps protect your business, productivity, and valuable workforce. 

If you're looking for ways to protect your workforce from a potential workplace injury, get in touch. We'd love the opportunity to show you how First Mats can preserve the productivity and safety of your employees.


Richard O'Connor's Headshot

Richard O'Connor is a Director at First Mats. He has deep knowledge in areas like Manufacturing, Warehousing, Marine, and Health & Safety. Richard's insights have been featured in well-known publications such as Bloomberg Business, The Sun, and Reader's Digest. His blend of industry expertise and passion for sharing makes him a sought-after voice in his fields.

Contact Richard