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Ergonomic hazards

Ergonomic hazards – factors in your environment that may cause discomfort or strain – are common within office environments but can be found in many workplaces. They are not always immediately obvious, making them difficult to detect.

Depending on severity and level of exposure, improper workstation set-up, poor posture, awkward and repetitive movements and incorrect manual handling can cause anything from sore muscles to long-term illness. As an employer, you must do everything reasonably practicable to protect employees from this risk.

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Manual handling, lifting and carrying, and keyboard work are some of the prime causes in the development of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), particularly back pain.

With latest HSE statistics revealing that MSDs are the second highest cause of occupational ill health – responsible for 7.3 million working days lost annually – ergonomic hazards can be costly if left unmanaged. If you don’t have access to a competent health and safety person in house, WorkNest’s outsourced support can help.

  • Get a full audit of your compliance with an on-site health and safety audit (General Risk Assessment)
  • Ensure relevant ergonomic hazards such as DSE, manual handling and vibration are managed effectively with consultant support
  • Continue to meet your responsibilities with unlimited advice from a named Health & Safety specialist
  • Save time with expert-created templates, including a DSE Assessment Form, from our full-version Knowledge Hub available via myWorkNest
  • Expert online or classroom training to raise awareness of DSE risks and equip employees to undertake a DSE self-assessment

Related resources


The Health and Safety Implications of Hybrid Working


Health and Safety for Office Workers | Practical Steps for Employers


Musculoskeletal Disorders | What Are They and How Can Employers Prevent Them?

Reduce the risks from remote working

Ergonomic hazards are often a result of the way a space is designed, meaning that planning ahead and thinking about how employees interact with their work space is crucial. As many organisations make the transition to more permanent homeworking arrangements, it’s important to remember that your duty of care extends to anyone working remotely.

With a recent survey revealing a significant increase in musculoskeletal complaints amongst homeworkers, it’s important to conduct a Homeworking Risk Assessment to consider aspects of employees’ workstation set-up and give further thought as to what measures will need to be introduced to mitigate risk. Of course, homeworking presents other risks, such as isolation, stress and fatigue.

Popular FAQs

Common ergonomic hazards queries and questions about our service, answered by our Health & Safety specialists.

What is a DSE Assessment?

A DSE Assessment is a systematic way of identifying issues with the workstation set-up. A basic or standard assessment is suitable for most people. Someone who is experiencing pain or who has a specific need may to consider an advanced or specialist assessment.

When is a DSE risk assessment required?

Ongoing assessment and management of the risks associated with DSE is vital. A DSE risk assessment should be undertaken whenever a new workstation is set up, when a new user starts work, and whenever there is a significant change to personnel, working practices, office location, or the equipment itself. Risk assessments should also be repeated if there is reason to suspect that they may no longer be valid – for example, if a DSE user reports that they are experiencing pain or discomfort.

What health problems can DSE cause?

While using DSE may appear to be a relatively harmless task, over time, a poorly-designed work station and/or bad work habits can result in serious health problems, including musculoskeletal problems (conditions affecting the joints, bones and muscles), difficulties with vision and mental stress.

Is health and safety needed in an office?

Health and safety law applies to all organisations, so while you might not consider health and safety to be an immediate priority for office-based professional services businesses, a serious accident could have profoundly negative effect on annual profitability through costly absences, lost business and even fines. Remember, all employers, regardless of size or sector, must have access to one or more competent persons to help them meet the requirements of health and safety law. If you don’t have somebody suitable within your organisation, the HSE advises that you can appoint an external Health & Safety company such as WorkNest to help and advise you.

What is manual handling?

Manual handling refers to any workplace activity that involves lifting, carrying, lowering or otherwise carrying or moving a load by hand or bodily force. According to the HSE, manual handling tasks are responsible for a third of all workplace injuries. While more common in physical jobs, office workers will likely undertake some form of manual handling in the course of their role, such as when transporting heavy equipment, moving supplies from place to place, and taking in deliveries. It’s important that these tasks are properly managed, and that staff are trained in safe manual handling techniques, in order to reduce the risk of injury to a person’s back, neck or spine.

How can employers control the risks from manual handling?

If manual handling cannot be avoided, then you must conduct a suitable and sufficient risk assessment and implement practical controls or safe systems of work to reduce the risks you have identified to as low a level as possible. This might include splitting heavy items into more manageable loads and making sure employees receive training on how to safely lift items and use any provided lifting equipment.

What does the law say about preventing musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace?

Several pieces of legislation attach legal responsibilities to employers in relation to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). In addition to a general duty of care under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations require employers to assess the risks to the health and safety of their employees while at work, while the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992, Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 and Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 place specific requirements on employers to manage the risks arising from activities that have potential to cause MSDs.

What are musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)?

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) cover a variety of strain, sprain and overuse problems that affect the body’s muscles, joints and nerves. The resulting ache, pain and discomfort includes everything from backache and slipped discs to upper limb disorders, inflammation of tendons, and numbness, swelling and tingling in the hands and wrists. Back disorders are the most prevalent, resulting in 2.8 million working days lost in 2018/19.

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