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HSE: new ideas needed to tackle ‘macho’ views on MSDs in construction

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It is still seen as a ‘badge of honour’ among workers to incur injuries through their job by the time they reach retirement age, audiences at HSE’s inaugural musculoskeletal conference heard last week.


“Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are seen in terms of the present, rather than in long term. It’s, ‘I lifted that thing and it did my back in’, without understanding of the longer term and deteriorating nature of some of these incidents,” HSE’s head of behavioural insight and service design, Martin Friar told delegates at the event on 21 March.

Friar spoke of HSE’s field research in construction to understand attitudes to MSDs in order to design interventions, strategies and communications aimed at reducing cases of neck, back and limb injuries.

“There is still a macho culture linked with a fatalism in construction. It’s a badge of honour that your body’s broken by the time of heading to retirement – across employers and employees,” he said.

However, Friar said that there was still a ‘huge appetite’ for innovation: “That’s incredibly clear, employers are looking for more and employees are open to alternative [guidance and means] that are workable and practicable. The big question is how.”

“We detected too little tailored and practical guidance at the point at which it’s required.

“Employers have the will but lacked ideas about how to approach MSDs, employees don’t have high expectations,” he added.

Martin Friar: a ‘huge appetite’ for innovation to tackle MSDs in construction

HSE has pledged to reduce levels of musculoskeletal disorders – along with stress and occupational lung disease – as part of its three to five year Health and Work strategy.

Friar’s behavioural insights team are starting work in three high risk priority sectors for MSDs; construction, transport and storage and healthcare industries, to design interventions.

Musculoskeletal disorders are still the most common reported cause of occupational ill health in Great Britain, accounting for 34% of all working days lost due to ill health.

“The majority of the cost both financial and physical is born to the individual and that’s something we mustn’t forget when looking at the values with pound signs. There’s a real platform for change in this space,” said Friar.

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