Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) account for more than half of all compensation claims and are the single largest source of lost-time costs in Australia.

Data, provided by ReturntoWorkSA, from FY21 and FY22 suggests that MSDs affect South Australian workers across all age groups, and claim costs have exceeded $54 million dollars in the last 2 financial years alone.

The threat of MSDs is especially relevant in today’s working climate, as COVID-19 has forced workers to adapt to changing workplace demands. Workers have been encouraged to work from home in conditions not designed to reduce the risk of MSDs, while workloads have increased from new work and to cover worker absences. These changing working conditions not only contribute to physical risk factors but also psychosocial risk with increased emotional stress and social isolation.

Symptoms of MSDs can include pain, joint stiffness, muscle tightness, redness, swelling of the affected area and numbness and may impact an individual’s ability to attend work.

Development of MSDs is most commonly associated with exposure to physical and psychosocial hazards at work which may include high force exertions, repetitive movement, a hostile working environment or lack of social support.

The development of MSDs is multidimensional, and interventions must focus on both psychosocial and physical components of working environments to decrease the risk of MSDs. The good news is that individuals and workplaces can make small changes within their workplaces to do just this!


  1. Regularly undertake workspace design audits to identify MSD risk factors.
  2. Provide workers with the skills and knowledge they need to adjust their working style to protect their own health (e.g., safety training and education workshops).
  3. Adapt workspaces to the needs of individuals e.g., desk height, monitor placement etc.
  4. Encourage active task breaks to minimise sustained posture and increase dynamic movement.
  5. Vary task delegation between individuals to support task rotation and reduce repetitive movement.
  6. Automate tasks where possible to reduce repetitive movement for workers.
  7. Encourage and support workers in developing supportive social networks (e.g., organise social events at and outside work).


  1. Ensure your workspace is ergonomically designed (e.g., position equipment and work tasks directly in front of the body to minimise twisting and bending).
  2. Introduce active task breaks to your workflow to increase dynamic movement and minimise sustained posture (e.g., standing up, taking a walk).
  3. Schedule work tasks to increase task rotation and decrease repetitive movement.
  4. Increase your knowledge around MSDs and prevention strategies.
  5. Foster and maintain a strong social support network with colleagues, family and friends.

Helpful resources

Author: Ashley Platt, UniSA Centre for Workplace Excellence