In October 2018, the Health and Safety Executive published a report entitled, ‘Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders, a tri-sector exploration.’

With work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) being so widespread and having such a significant impact on individuals, employers and the wider economy, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) commissioned a two-stage research project, revealing findings via the report that reflect evidence gathered from the construction, healthcare and transport and storage sectors.

Key findings of the report

Understanding: The key findings of the report revealed inconsistencies in the understanding of the term MSDs, with many employers and workers considering them the result of an accident, rather than conditions that developed gradually over time. Many employers also believed that whilst MSDs could be caused by the job or daily tasks including poor posture or lifting, they could also be due to lifestyle choices and natural ageing.

Attitudes: Because MSDs tend to be considered as events that happen and which often need immediate action, the research found that they tended to be addressed in line with pre-existing workplace health and safety policies. What this means is that accidents and incidents were more likely to be reported, recorded and focused upon than cases of injuries subject to more gradual onset.

Fairly shockingly, the report also revealed that many employers and workers felt they had little control over the occurrence of MSDs and that they were an unavoidable result of the role. Corner cutting and failure to use the correct equipment were also found to be common practice, further increasing the risks to workers.

Prevention versus management: Employers were found to be more focused on the prevention of injuries leading to MSDs rather than the management of existing health conditions. So for example, there was more emphasis on providing manual handling training and providing lifting and moving aids in order to prevent issues, rather than on the likes of job rotation programmes and fast track healthcare aimed at managing existing MSDs.

Equipment: The report revealed that whilst lifting or moving equipment was readily available, workers often felt it hindered productivity and prolonged the task.

Manual handling training: A major finding of the HSE report was that workers found manual handling training to be uninspiring and irrelevant to their actual jobs and duties. Furthermore, training facilities were often considered boring and sterile environments that evoked negative memories of school. All of these issues discouraged participation, attention, retention and implementation of information.

In addition, there was more sitting down and watching than actually doing, with the content of training sessions having been seen over and over again. Training rarely reflected the context, environment or equipment that was actually being used by workers in reality.

Opportunities presented by the report

The report concluded with a list of opportunities to improve the support provided to employers and workers. One of those opportunities was to improve the relevance and quality of training and communications, as well as encouraging the use of the correct handling equipment.

There are clearly major issues with manual handling training, and attitudes to it. This is because traditionally, some manual handling training has indeed been uninspiring and irrelevant, lacking participation and practical tasks. But it really doesn’t have to be like this.

A different class of manual handling training

At Alistair Bromhead Ltd, our manual handling training focuses on active participation and practical tasks, and involvement from everyone attending is keenly encouraged.

We explain the personal benefits of correct manual handling technique, and the importance of making use of the lifting and moving aids provided. All of our course material is regularly refreshed and based on the latest facts, figures and emerging risks.

We are often asked to tailor our courses and deliver them onsite, so that they are wholly relevant and cover the real risks faced by workers. This approach is extremely successful with excellent candidate understanding and retention, and highly positive feedback from candidates.

We also offer a range of train the trainer courses so that employers can install their own in-house manual handling trainers. Also, in response to the issue raised in the HSE report, our Manual Handling Train the Trainer: City & Guilds Accredited Programme, prompts trainer candidates when preparing their risk assessments to look just as closely at managing existing MSDs with a view to ensuring they do not worsen over time, as they do at preventing injuries in the first place.

The HSE full report can be viewed here. To learn more about our range of UK-wide manual handling courses and to check availability, please call us on 0800 710 1099 or email