Tackling musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in the cleaning industry

Musculoskeletal disorders (muscular aches, pains and discomfort) are the most common work-related ill health/ injury reported by cleaning operatives.

What are musculoskeletal disorders?

The term musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) describes a variety of strain, sprain, and overuse problems affecting the body’s muscles, joints and nerves. The back, neck, shoulders and upper limbs are particularly at risk. Problems include everything from backache and slipped discs, to upper limb disorders, tenosynovitis, pain, numbness, swelling and tingling in the hands and wrists. These conditions are often caused or made worse by work activities.

Why are cleaning operatives at risk?

Cleaning work is demanding and labour intensive. Many tasks involve using cleaning machines and heavy manual work, including mopping, wiping surfaces, polishing, moving rubbish bags, furniture and equipment, putting strain on the heart, muscles and other tissues. Cleaners are often required to work in awk-ward postures for long periods which may lead to long-term damage.

Recognising a problem

Symptoms may occur suddenly, or there may be a more gradual onset often with initial tingling, then slight swelling or soreness, which may persist and gradually worsen.

Indicators of musculoskeletal problems in the workplace include:

• increased sickness absence, accident and injury reports

• reports of pain and discomfort from cleaners or reports on their behalf from safety/union representatives

• cleaners wearing splints, bandages or back supports

• low motivation and dissatisfaction among cleaners – not wanting to do certain tasks

• cleaners adapting their own equipment

Organisations have a legal duty to:

• manage the risk of musculoskeletal disorders that your workers may be exposed to

• implement risk control measures identified by the assessment

• ensure that systems are in place to enable staff to work safely select equipment which will enable cleaners to carry out their job safely

• ensure equipment is inspected and maintained at appropriate intervals

• provide PPE where required

• ensure appropriate training is provided to all workers

• consult safety representatives and workers about issues affecting worker safety

• report certain accidents and cases of ill health to the regulator

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