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MSDs: what are we talking about?

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) occur gradually and can lead to the loss of function of a musculoskeletal system. Musculoskeletal disorders are manifested by pain and discomfort in movement which, without preventive measures, can eventually lead to disability at work and in daily life.

Published on 5 November 2020 - Manut-LM

What is MSD?

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are diseases that affect the joints, muscles and nerves. MSDs have multiple causes and are work-related.

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) are then responsible for chronic pain such as back pain, particularly in the cervical or lumbar vertebrae (cervicalgia and lumbago). But they also lead to tendonitis in the wrists, elbows, shoulders or even blood vessel disorders in the legs… There are also disorders in the spine.

It is the leading cause of occupational disease in France and in industrialized countries. In 2018, more than 87% of these illnesses resulted in time off work or financial compensation due to sequelae.

MSDs occur where there are occupational hazards. Risk of manual handling, risk of bad posture, both by carrying heavy loads and bad posture at the office. Risk of accidents with equipment such as forklifts, risk of falling due to work done at height. These risks are constant and we are confronted with them on a daily basis, which is why it is important to know how to distinguish them.

MSDs: environments at risk

Every sector of activity is concerned, such as the food industry, metallurgy, industrial cleaning, construction and public works, mass distribution, etc.

A survey was carried out in 2008 by 350 occupational physicians, among 5,000 employees in the retail sector. It appears that there are more musculoskeletal disorders among retail employees: 85% of retail employees suffer from musculoskeletal disorders, compared to 75% for the population as a whole: 60% have back pain, and 30% suffer from wrist and shoulder pain.

Different factors will play a role in the appearance of MSDs;

The workstation is an important factor with repetitive motions. Carrying heavy loads, precise movements, small amplitude, work at height with a risk of falling, especially if performed in an uncomfortable posture. The use of vibrating or mechanical tools such as a forklift accident. Occupations that involve static work postures such as screen work with screens too high or too low in relation to the eyes, prolonged use of the mouse.

There are also other factors to consider such as personal factors. The gender of the workers also plays a role. Women are more affected than men. Being more often assigned to tasks that require repetitive hand movements at a high rate. They still do most of the housework.

Age also has a significant impact on MSDs. Certain stresses will trigger musculoskeletal disorders in employees over 50, whereas they have no effect on employees aged 30. A deteriorated state of health favors the occurrence of musculoskeletal disorders.

The organization of work affects the psychology of workers and therefore increases the risk of MSDs. Just-in-time flows, time pressure, poor work organization, and lack of job satisfaction are all criteria for the appearance of MSDs. The workplace can also be a reason for occupational diseases. Low lighting, high noise levels or poor thermal conditions may require the employee to adopt an uncomfortable position to move towards or away from problem sources.

It is therefore the imbalance between the employee’s capacities and the demands to which he or she is exposed that will create MSDs.

MSDs, what impact for companies and employees

In some figures MSDs is 1 billion euros covered by employers’ charges (Health Insurance, 2014). 2 days of work stoppage per year and per person (2004, INRS)

In order to convince more company managers to invest in MSD prevention programs, the National Agency for the Improvement of Working Conditions (Anact) proposes an economic approach to these problems. Three types of costs related to these diseases stand out: direct, indirect and strategic.

Direct costs: These are the simplest to analyze, and include health insurance contributions (employer’s account), compensation paid for sick employees (absence, care), costs incurred in finding and adapting workstations for affected employees, not to mention the time spent on managing the files of affected employees.

Anact estimates its costs in 2008 at between 100 and 500 euros per year and per employee.

Indirect costs: Replacement during a shutdown or in case of departure, loss of quality during the training time of a new employee, loss of production capacity.

2 to 7 times more important than the direct costs: 200 to 3,500 euros per year and per employee.

Strategic costs: These are an estimate of the social impact of MSDs on the company’s boundaries. They can be social, with risks of conflict or exhaustion, productive, with the loss of employee qualifications, economic, with the impact of overstaffing caused by MSDs on prices and competitiveness, or ethical, with a deterioration of the company’s image for its customers and employees.

A 2002 survey indicates that strategic costs are estimated to be between 10 and 30 times the sum of the other two costs, i.e. €1,000 and €3,500 per year and per employee.

MSDs: preventive measures to adopt

In order to identify and therefore prevent MSD risks in your company, it is necessary to evaluate the biomechanical stresses. Thus, the repetition of gestures, the prolonged maintenance of the same posture, excessive efforts or extreme joint amplitudes will most certainly generate MSDs in employees.

Leaning on a hand, using vibrating objects, working on a screen are also causes of pain that can be easily avoided. Repeated or prolonged neck extension, extreme wrist positions, working above shoulder level, and grasping objects beyond the comfort zone are also sources of this type of disorder. Finally, an employee’s stress will increase the tone of his or her muscles and promote the occurrence of MSDs in the neck, shoulders and forearms.

The design of ergonomic workstations makes it possible to gain both in productivity for the company and in comfort and safety for the employees.

This is why it is important to prevent these disorders. This prevention must be done through a dialogue between management and employees and requires simple adaptations of workstations. It is also important to ensure that each movement is performed in the least restrictive position for the muscles most in demand.

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