Musculoskeletal disorders

‘The future of MSD solutions’

NSC lab expands its efforts to reduce work-related musculoskeletal disorders

Photo: The Photo Group

What makes musculoskeletal disorders the most common workplace injury, as well as the leading cause of worker disability, early retirement and limitations to gainful employment?

Variety, for one.

Have you ever thought about the many settings in which injuries caused by heavy lifting, awkward postures or repetitive motions might occur? The National Safety Council MSD Solutions Lab has. Now in its second year, the lab is committed to curbing work-related MSDs by providing industry-specific resources.

“The main step is understanding what your risks are,” said Sarah Ischer, the lab’s senior program manager. “Really honing in on what those are – and then leading organizations to solutions based on those industry risks.”

In June, the lab will mark the first anniversary of its MSD Pledge. Aimed at reducing work-related MSDs by 25% by 2025, the pledge is free and open to any employer committed to identifying and reducing the workplace risks of MSDs, which include tendinitis, back strains and sprains, and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Employers who sign the pledge commit to creating a culture of safety at work by:

  • Analyzing the causes of MSDs across operations, and invest in solutions and practices that reduce risk.
  • Leveraging benchmarking, and share learnings and countermeasures to expand on innovations to improve safety practices.
  • Promoting a workplace where safety excellence, transparency and accurate reporting are equally valued, and where everyone – at every level of the organization – is accountable for the safety and health of workers.
It’s important to offer resources with actionable takeaways for organizations of all sizes.

Sarah Ischer
Senior program manager
MSD Solutions Labs

As of May, more than 160 organizations of all sizes – from Ansell Inteliforz and Durable Surfaces to Boeing and John Deere – had signed the pledge, an initiative launched by NSC in collaboration with Amazon. What’s more, the lab surpassed its initial goal of 100 organizations signing by the end of 2022. Today, more than 2.6 million employees are being helped via the pledge, Ischer said.

As part of the pledge, organizations will complete the MSD Solutions Index, a benchmarking tool that Ischer said will help pledge members “understand what their organization is doing around MSD prevention” by pooling responses related to prevention efforts.

Developed by the lab in partnership with academic and industry experts, the index specifically provides pledge members with a comprehensive overview of how they’re progressing on their pledge commitments, including safety culture, MSD risk-reduction efforts, and innovation and collaboration. Each organization’s results will remain confidential, but data will be aggregated to help better identify trends across industries. In the coming months, NSC plans to share preliminary information from the index, Ischer said, to “showcase what organizations are doing and learn from each other.”

The range of industries represented by pledge participants has steered the lab and its 41-member advisory council to develop “industry spotlight” resources aimed at specific occupations. “It’s important to offer resources with actionable takeaways for organizations of all sizes,” Ischer said. “We understand larger organizations may have a specialist onsite who understands ergonomics and MSD prevention, but there’s still takeaway knowledge they might not have directly on hand that we’re able to provide.

“We also can simplify those programs and really key into what smaller organizations should be focusing on if they’re just starting an ergonomics program.”

Collaboration fuels the lab. When the advisory council meets, for instance, members representing government agencies, academia, health care, engineering, insurance, manufacturing and aviation, among other areas, talk about lab projects as well as ergonomic concerns and hazards their employees encounter on the job.

“They’re the experts who understand this area and have worked either in industry or research to understand what the needs are and what solutions are out there,” Ischer said. “It’s a huge benefit we not only have this group the lab can lean on for understanding, but also that they can learn from each other.”

In March, NSC made available $285,000 in grant funding via its Research to Solutions grant and MSD Solutions Pilot Grant 1.0. Research to Solutions encourages academic institutions, businesses and industries to innovate solutions for MSDs across a range of industries. The MSD Solutions Pilot Grant 1.0, meanwhile, targets the prevention of MSDs specifically caused by manual material handling.

Grant recipients will be eligible to present their safety findings at the 2024 NSC Safety Congress & Expo or another event.

Last year, the lab recognized the winners of its inaugural Safety Innovation Challenge during the NSC Safety Congress & Expo in San Diego. Ischer said the challenge was “very well-received.” As a result, the 2023 Congress & Expo – set for Oct. 23-25 in New Orleans – will feature another challenge in tandem with an innovation-themed keynote. The lab will continue its partnership with Safetytech Accelerator, a nonprofit organization with a mission to make the world safer and more sustainable through technology.

Also making a return appearance will be the Safety Technology Pavilion, part of the Innovation and Technology Experience led by the lab as well as another NSC program, the Work to Zero initiative. Attendees can watch educational presentations and demonstrations, speak with experts, and try out tech solutions.

A certified industrial hygienist and ergonomics manager, most recently in manufacturing, Ischer can attest to the value of seeing solutions in action. The tactile experience is vital.

“If you can’t get your hands on the solution, manipulate and use them yourself, how do you know they’re effectively going to solve that risk?” Ischer said. “So, I think it’s significant that we have the opportunity to share those solutions with the stakeholders, and they can understand what this sensor or exoskeleton is going to feel like.

“And it’s even better if decision-makers can learn from that and then share it with their workforce to also get their buy-in on choosing these solutions.”

The lab is working on new resources, Ischer said, including a white paper on the impact of diversity, equity and inclusion on work-related MSDs. Visit to stay up to date.

“We’re very excited to focus on what we think is going to be the future of EHS and the future of MSD solutions,” Ischer said.

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