Tips for construction workers

Small business insight

1 January 2018

Musculoskeletal (MSK) disorders (problems affecting the bones, muscles and joints) are the biggest cause of work-related ill health in the construction industry, with 65% of all illnesses reported being MSK-related1.

This may not come as a surprise to construction workers. Aches, pains and strains in the muscles and joints are a common feeling for many after a day’s work. But sometimes these can escalate into debilitating back or neck pain, which could lead to prolonged time off work. According to the Health & Safety Executive, 8.9 million working days were lost in 2016/17 due to work-related musculoskeletal disorders2.

Musculoskeletal disorders can impact all aspects of someone’s life. Alongside the potential of prolonged time off work, they can also affect lifestyle, sport and leisure activities and even sleep.

Musculoskeletal disorders amongst the workforce can seriously impact a business, with costs arising due to lost productivity caused by sickness absence. When you’re a small business owner, it can be particularly damaging when you or one of your key team members has to take sickness absence for a long period of time. Unlike in large businesses where colleagues can cover for someone who is off sick, unfortunately it’s not always possible in SMEs with a small team. The lost productivity caused by prolonged sickness absence could result in projects being delayed or lost and relationships with customers being jeopardised.

However, there are ways to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injuries arising in your team.

Think Before You Lift

The lifting of heavy objects can be a common cause of musculoskeletal injuries amongst construction workers. It’s therefore vital that your team receives comprehensive training in proper lifting techniques. For really heavy loads, your team should have access to wheelbarrows and trolleys, or mechanical lifting equipment. Investing in the proper equipment can pay off in the long run, particularly if it results in less team members suffering from work-related back, neck and muscle problems.

The NHS advises the following points when lifting3:

  • Think before you lift
  • Keep the load close to your waist
  • Adopt a stable position
  • Ensure that you have a good hold on the load
  • Don’t bend your back when lifting
  • Don’t twist when you lift
  • Look ahead when lifting
  • Move smoothly and avoid sudden movements
  • Know your limits
  • Put the load down and then adjust

The Mayo Clinic has created this useful slideshow to demonstrate the correct lifting technique.

Your team should also ask for help from colleagues if they have a particularly large or heavy load to lift. 

Maintain Good Posture

Poor posture can be another cause of musculoskeletal injuries, particularly if it’s maintained for a long period of time. Your team should think about the most comfortable posture for their neck, shoulders and back when carrying out a particular task. For example, consistently working with your arms above your head can cause unnecessary strain on your arms and shoulders. Altering your working position to elbow height could be much more comfortable and put less strain on your upper body.

Avoid Hazards 

Avoid unnecessary risks and hazards by ensuring that work zones are kept tidy and free from any trip hazards. According to the HSE, 24% of non-fatal injuries to workers were caused by slips, trips or falls on the same level4. You can encourage your team to tidy up as they go to ensure that the work area stays tidy at all times. People should also be warned of any areas that may prove to be particularly dangerous in regards to trip or fall hazards so they are aware of the risks.

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Take a Break

Musculoskeletal injuries can also happen due to repetitive movements over a prolonged period of time. Repeatedly lifting heavy loads, for example, can put strain on your back, neck and muscles. This could lead to musculoskeletal disorders if the practice is repeated every day. It’s important to encourage your team to take regular breaks throughout the day, and to change tasks frequently. Whether that’s stopping for a cup of tea, or even switching to a slightly less manual task for a while. 

Taking regular breaks from tasks throughout the day can also mean that concentration levels remain consistent. Repetitive or particularly strenuous tasks can be mentally tiring. Regular breaks can reduce the risk of injury caused by a drop in concentration levels.

Stretches and Exercise

Footballers warm up before a game to help reduce muscle soreness and your team should be doing the same. The construction industry can be particularly manual and put strain on the body for workers, especially if muscles haven’t been warmed up. The NHS has created this short warm-up routine which you could encourage your team to follow before they start their shift. 

As repetitive movements are so common for construction workers, stretching throughout the day can be a great way to ease the pressure on muscles and joints. Your team should be taking regular breaks already, so why not encourage them to stretch during this time. 

Early Intervention

Early intervention is key to addressing any potential musculoskeletal risks in the workplace. Rather than waiting for a slight twinge to escalate into full blown back pain, you should encourage your team to seek medical advice as soon as possible. 

When we lead such busy lives, it can be difficult to find the time to get that back twinge looked at. With our Working Body service, your team can talk to a physiotherapist over the phone at a time that suits them to talk through the symptoms and discuss possible treatment. If the physiotherapist recommends that they carry out specific exercises, they will explain them over the phone so they can try them themselves at home or at work and provide follow up support*.


How We Can Help

For small business owners, every employee really counts. When you or a member of your team is off work due to ill health, it can severely impact your business. Private health insurance can help get you and your team back to work quickly. Find out more information about our private health insurance for small businesses.

*This service is for our healthcare members aged 18 years or over. Any face to face treatment required is only payable under the plan if you have chosen the Therapy option.

Sources and References

1 Health and Safety Executive. Health and Safety Statistics for the Construction Sector in Great Britain, 2017.

2 Health and Safety Executive, 2017. Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders. 

3 NHS, 2016. Safe Lifting Tips.

4 Health and Safety Executive. Health and Safety Statistics for the Construction Sector in Great Britain, 2017.

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