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How to eliminate 3 hidden causes of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)

Warehouse employee in a yellow safety vest and construction hat holding his neck in pain.

WSPS Warehouse Specialist Norm Kramer was experiencing discomfort in his wrist while at home. “After three months of progressive pain, I thought about the tasks I was doing, and the risk factors for musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) I was exposed to, such as force, awkward posture and repetition,” says Norm. 

He realized he had been bending his wrist awkwardly three times a day while closing a large container. “I found a way to close the container while keeping my wrist straight, and the pain went away within days.”

While Norm’s discomfort was relatively easy to resolve, the process is much more difficult in the workplace, where there are so many factors and activities at play. “The best approach is to identify and eliminate risk factors before someone experiences pain and discomfort, with the help of an ergonomic consultant.” 

But businesses can also take steps on their own to reduce three common, but hidden, risk factors, says Norm. “These risk factors may not be readily obvious or may not immediately cause pain or discomfort. Injuries develop over time. But they are responsible for many costly MSDs in the workplace.” Here’s what you need to know to eliminate them. 

Workplace ergonomics tips: 3 MSD risk factors, with solutions

“These risk factors arise during familiar workplace activities in manufacturing and warehouse and distribution workplaces – driving lift trucks and manual materials handling,” says Norm. “The risks are greater in warehouse-type settings because of greater repetition and frequency.”

1.    Twisting while operating a lift truck in reverse. Operators drive in reverse if a high load on their forks is obstructing their vision. To do this, they usually twist their neck and/or body repeatedly, while seated, which may lead to discomfort, pain, and MSDs. 


  • keep the pallet at a height that allows the operator to travel in a forward direction and maintain good visibility over the load 

  • install swivel seats 

  • train operators to shift hips as needed, to reduce twisting as much as possible

  • use mobile equipment, such as a standup reach forklift or electric pallet jack, which allows the operator to stand and turn their feet instead of their body 

  • use mobile equipment with a rotating operator compartment 

  • use a spotter to guide the operator

2.    Experiencing whole body vibration when driving over dock levellers. ‘Dock shock’ refers to the constant jolting and jarring that occurs when a forklift or stand-up walkie crosses from the warehouse floor over the bumps and gaps of a traditional dock leveler. “As a result,” says Norm, “operators experience whole body vibration, which can lead to back and neck injuries.” 


  • invest in quality mobile equipment with shock absorbing seats 

  • train operators to reduce speed when travelling over dock levellers to lessen vibration 

  • establish mandatory work breaks for operators, to give soft tissues in the neck and shoulders a chance to rest 

  • perform regular maintenance on your dock that includes assessing the severity of dock shock

  • purchase dock levellers designed to minimize dock shock, creating a smooth transition between the warehouse floor and truck or trailer bed 

3.    Using awkward postures when repeatedly lifting onto and off pallets. “It’s not enough to train workers to keep their back straight and legs bent,” says Norm. “Boxes may be large and hard to move, pallet loads stacked high, and loads packed tightly beneath lower-level racking. “Workers may be forced into awkward postures that stress the soft tissues in the legs, arms, neck, shoulder, back and hands.”


  • use conveyors to eliminate the need for lifts, where possible

  • place heavy objects on racking, shelving or pallets between the waist and shoulder height of the average worker 

  • ensure frequently retrieved items are easily accessible

  • put handles on loads so they can be gripped easily 

  • provide safe lifting training with examples of sizes, weights and location of loads in your warehouse, and appropriate techniques for unique situations

  • use adjustable tables or platforms to eliminate the need for workers to bend 

  • consider automating the process by applying “box lifting robots,” autonomous mobile robots or automated guided vehicles that transport loads. 

How WSPS can help


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The information in this article is accurate as of its publication date.