Why Do So Many Construction Workers Have Musculoskeletal Disorders?


Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) are one of the most common work-related ailments. They are also the main cause of non-fatal injuries in construction work. These disorders affect millions of construction workers across the United States and cost companies billions of dollars. Moving loads, awkward postures, and vibrations from machinery take their toll on the body. Not surprisingly, construction workers face an increased risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders. Construction-related MSDs primarily affect the back, neck, shoulders, and include any damage or disorder of the joints or other tissues. Health problems range from minor aches and pains to more serious illnesses that require sick leave or medical treatment. In chronic cases, these disorders can lead to disability and prevent the affected person from continuing to work.

Most work-related MSDs develop over time. These disorders generally do not have a single cause and are often the result of combining several risk factors. This includes physical and biomechanical factors, organizational and psychosocial factors, as well as individual factors. Below are some of the physical and mental causes. 

Physical causes of:

  • Handling heavy loads, especially when bending or turning the body.
  • Repetitive or forceful movements.
  • Muscle exertion increases in response to these requirements, thus increasing fatigue which can in turn lead to an MSD.
  • Forced and unnatural postures.
  • Forced postures put excessive force on the joints and tendons that surround the affected joint.
  • Vibrations, poor lighting or cold work environments.
  • Working at a fast pace.

Mental causes of:

  • High work demands and low autonomy.
  • The lack of breaks or opportunities to change positions at work.
  • Very long hours or shift work.
  • Stress possibly rooting from intimidation, harassment and discrimination at work.
  • Low job satisfaction.

Muscular pathologies associated with work are processes that have been described for centuries, since they are closely related to physical activity. In recent decades, MSDs have been among the most important occupational health problems, both in developed and developing countries. Globally, MSDs are the largest category of workplace injuries and account for 30% of all US worker’s compensation costs. In vain, different institutions and organizations, specialized in the prevention of occupational hazards, have developed different campaigns to deal with this pathology and to prevent it – but the United States is lagging behind.

There are studies that support MSDs are a growing problem with high labor costs since any worker can suffer from them. This increases the economic costs for companies, altering work activity, reducing productivity, and contributing to an increase in absenteeism. In order to prevent MSD’s in the workplace, employers need to step up their regulations in order to reflect what’s best for their workers.

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