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20/05/2021

MSD case studies: read about real-life examples of supporting workers with chronic MSDs

Many workers will develop a chronic musculoskeletal disorder while still at work, but what can be done to reduce their impact and support the individuals affected to continue to work? This article looks at three specific case studies involving workers who have suffered from various chronic musculoskeletal conditions and highlights the good practice tips and measures that helped them manage their condition and prevent further aggravation while returning or staying in work.

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Image by Oladimeji Ajegbile from Pexels

Case study 1 – Job role changes and equipment accommodations

This case study concerns a male police officer in his 50s suffering from rib costochondritis (inflammation of the cartilage that connects a rib to the breastbone), sciatica and finger pain. He developed the condition from wearing mandatory personal protective equipment - PPE (a heavy stab vest) and as a result of his work tasks.

His condition was made worse by the fact that his health complaints had not been taken seriously at an early stage and he was also reluctant to take sick leave. Early intervention is essential because the sooner an MSD problem is managed, the less likely it will develop into a painful and chronic condition.

Thanks to good communication with his line manager taking the complaint seriously, the police officer was moved to an office-based role and provided with ergonomic equipment such as a sit-stand desk and a new mouse and keyboard. This has enabled him to continue working full-time. The officer’s experience led to a review of PPE and lighter, more ergonomic stab vests were provided to other officers to prevent future potential MSD issues, highlighting the importance of action being taken at organisational level.

Case study 2 – Workplace stretching and other accommodations

After one year of being off work, a female project manager in her late 50s suffering from a long-term back problem induced by extended periods of sitting, gradually returned to work with the help of her employer.

The worker made a gradual return to work, only working part-time in the beginning. A number of workplace changes were made allowing the worker to avoid sitting down for long periods. This included providing her with a cordless headset and voice-activated dictation software that converts speech into written text. She was also given a cushion, often used by wheelchair users, to ease the pressure when sitting down.

The employer also provided access to a restroom for workplace stretching, which helped to avoid any further aggravation of her condition. The restroom also benefits other workers, giving them a space to perform stretching exercises if ever they experience back pain.

Case study 3 – Supportive colleagues and good communication

This case study looks at the case of a 48-year-old shop worker who suffers from chondromalacia (deterioration of the cartilage in her wrist and knee joints, with her knee being particularly affected). She receives both medical treatment and physiotherapy for the condition and has remained at work.

She has been able to stay in work thanks to the option to swap shifts with colleagues, to enable her to attend medical appointments. Colleagues also help her to carry heavier items and she was also given a stool to use when no customers are present. She usually works the afternoon shift, which avoids rush hour travel on the bus. The worker has worked at the same organisation for 17 years, establishing a good and open relationship with her employer and colleagues. This has helped her to stay at work and to ask for help when required.

Find out more

These case studies show how simple and cost-effective measures can be implemented to help workers with MSDs continue working with little to no risk of aggravating their MSD-related conditions. They also highlight the importance of good communication, support from the organisation, early intervention and applying any lessons learned to improve occupational safety and health.

You can find more such case studies and good practice tips in our case studies analysis report and more information on chronic MSDs on our priority page. And of course, don’t forget to follow EU-OSHA’s Healthy Workplaces Lighten the Load campaign on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.