2017-2022 Musculoskeletal disorder strategy


Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are one of the most common work related injuries and diseases in NSW, and can have long-term, costly impacts for businesses and workers.

An MSD is an injury to, or disease of, the body’s musculoskeletal system and includes sprains and strains of muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints. MSDs can result from gradual wear and tear and/or sudden damage to these parts of the body, and are commonly caused by hazardous manual tasks and slips, trips and falls.

When workers are required to perform a manual task, there are certain characteristics that make it hazardous. These are:

When workers are exposed to these characteristics of a hazardous manual task (risk factors), there is a greater risk of them getting a work related MSD.

There are physical, psychosocial and organisational causal factors in the workplace that may drive the presence and severity of risk factors for a hazardous manual task. It is recognised that these causal factors are interrelated and can impact upon each other.

Data shows that MSDs span across all industries and occupations. Hazardous manual tasks are the most common cause of injury, accounting for 29 per cent of workplace injuries in NSW(1).

By implementing this Musculoskeletal Disorder Strategy (the Strategy), SafeWork NSW intends to deliver on the Work Health and Safety Roadmap for NSW 2022 commitment to reduce serious
musculoskeletal injuries and illnesses by 30 per cent by 2022.

17 weeks the average total time lost (3)

What does success look like?

Description of success

NSW businesses embed a work health and safety landscape that addresses risks that lead to MSDs

NSW businesses use a systematic approach to eliminate and/or reduce exposure to MSD hazards and risk factors

NSW businesses, injured workers and health professionals work together to learn from MSD injuries and make improvements


MSD prevention is given priority in all work processes and decisions by:

  • leadership from the top
  • safe design of
    • systems of work
    • plant and structures
  • understanding the relationship between a person’s physical and psychological wellbeing and MSDs
  • ensuring worker capability for the task.

Businesses have capacity to effectively manage MSD hazards and risks by:

  • eliminating hazards at the planning and design stage
  • increasing the use of high level controls and reducing reliance on low level controls
  • ensuring MSD risk factors are considered in operational decision making including purchasing
  • ensuring effective systems for reporting and resolving MSD issues and risk factors
  • ensuring compliance with systems, control measures and legislation.

All parties work together to support injured workers to recover at work and learn from injury experiences by:

  • ensuring suitable work design by proactively managing MSD risk factors throughout the recovery at work process
  • applying learnings to improve work health and safety practices and integrate into safe design and systems across the workplace.
NSW businesses use consultation and communication as the foundation for the effective management of MSDs

The Work Health and Safety Roadmap for NSW 2022 aims to embed the health and safety landscape in NSW workplaces.

Engagement and partnership approach

SafeWork NSW approach to engaging and partnering with stakeholders for the delivery of the strategy

Customer focused approach

Research and learning

Support and apply research, learn from data, business interactions and translate evidence to practice

Ensure compliance

Enforce standards and regulations


Prioritise occupations, sectors and workplaces that are at greatest risk


Use innovative approaches to equip businesses and leaders with resources to drive effective management of MSDs


Provide advice on compliance and risk management of MSDs


Work with influencers to increase understanding of their role in preventing MSDs

The Strategy will run until 2022 and will be supported by an MSD Action Plan and ongoing engagement with an MSD Stakeholder Consultative Committee.

The Action Plan follows a risk-based approach. It identifies the industry sectors and occupations that have the highest number of serious MSDs each year and describes the actions SafeWork NSW will take to support these businesses. Reviewed annually, this plan provides a focused approach, allowing SafeWork NSW to be responsive to changes in industry sectors and occupations.


  1. State Insurance Regulatory Authority and SafeWork NSW, NSW Workers Compensation Statistical Bulletin 2013/14. Includes major claims only.  A major claim is one where the injury resulted in death, permanent disability, or temporary disability with at least one week of weekly benefit entitlement paid.
  2. This reduction will be measured against the baseline in the National Strategy. For serious musculoskeletal injuries and illnesses the baseline is the average of the relevant incidence rate for the three financial years 2009/10 to 2011/12.
  3. Major musculoskeletal injury and disease claims 2013/14 to 2015/16, NSW Workers’ Compensation Claims data.

Action plan

To address the issues of MSDs in NSW workplaces and to improve injured persons’ recovery at work, SafeWork NSW is taking a multi-pronged, risk-based approach. We will focus on specific industries and occupations, as well as engaging those who may influence a worker’s exposure to hazardous manual tasks, and their recovery at work. These include industry and workplace leaders, people responsible for purchasing, designers and engineers, allied health professionals and educators.

In 2017/18 we will work with the supermarket and grocery store sector, the state and local government sectors, and will work with storepersons, health care and social assistance workers. These industries and occupations have some of the highest rates of MSD injuries in NSW.


Supermarkets and grocery stores and government (local and state)

Health care and social assistance workers and storepersons

Safework NSW MSD work plan for 2017/18
  • co-design of solutions with industry for supermarkets, office ergonomics and patient handling
  • safety in purchasing, government focus
  • Participative Ergonomics for Manual Tasks (PErforM) workshops and implementation support program
  • Visit program – management of hazardous manual tasks in supermarkets and distribution centres
Response activity
  • responding to requests for service and incidents
  • delivering requested presentations
  • provision of advice to customers
  • contribution to policy advice on state and national issues
  • establishment and management of the MSD Stakeholder Consultative Committee
  • engagement with highest risk industry sector stakeholders – agriculture, manufacturing, government, transport, construction, health care and social assistance
  • engagement with MSD influential stakeholders through conference participation and relationship development
  • planning for NSW MSD Symposium to be held early 2018/19
  • campaign to inform of the relationship between MSDs, psychosocial and return to work factors
  • annual MSD story publication – recently released claims data and activity
  • review of publication gaps, and release of new material
  • MSD-focused webpage
  • publication of person conducting business or undertaking (PCBU) user version of MSD Strategy
  • MSD supplement for the Small Business Safety Pack
Exemplar regulator
  • inclusion of MSD risk factor review on SafeWork NSW return to work visits
  • MSD Strategy and Action Plan Evaluation Program
  • internal capability building
  • National MSD Regulator Network
  • implementation outcomes of the PEforM program
  • return on investment and development of online calculator
2018 and beyond
  • industry-specific problem solving series across high risk sectors
  • Good Work Design project (with psychosocial and health connections)
  • due diligence for MSD leadership and reporting best practice
  • Right info @ the right time project
  • case study program and online forums for sharing MSD solutions
  • further research – topic areas to be confirmed