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Physical disorders

Physical disorders are the most common work-related health problem in the European Union (EU). They are known as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), definitions of which include:

  • gout
  • lumbago
  • sciatica
  • carpal tunnel syndrome

An MSD develops over time and can be caused by work, the working environment or as a result of an accident. Normally, MSDs affect the back, neck, shoulders and upper limbs and sometimes the lower limbs. They can range from a minor ache to permanent disability and bring about loss of employment and a reduction in efficiency and profit.

There are many factors that can contribute to an MSD, such as:

  • physical - eg lifting, typing, vibration
  • organisational - eg repetitive, high demand, time-pressured work
  • individual - eg age, weight, prior health

You will find MSDs in all occupations, but some types of worker are more at risk, eg:

  • construction workers
  • nurses
  • machine operators
  • retail workers
  • secretaries and typists

You must make a sufficient and suitable risk assessment to identify the possibility of risk to employees from the manual handling of loads. A risk assessment will allow you to adopt cost-effective measures that can prevent or minimise MSDs. For more information, see the page in this guide on risk assessment.

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