October 13, 2022

Study: Psychosocial Risk Factors at Work Can Cause Musculoskeletal Disorders

Psychosocial risk factors play a causal role in the development of workplace musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), according to a new study conducted by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA). Agency researchers reached this conclusion following a literature review that identified relevant papers in peer-reviewed science publications and from government sources and international bodies. Examples of psychosocial risk factors discussed in the study include excessive workloads, lack of support from management, conflicting job demands, limited control over the way a job is performed, and psychological and sexual harassment.

The study was unable to identify a mechanism through which psychosocial risks affect MSDs. Researchers posited that psychosocial demands may increase muscle tension, exacerbating biomechanical strain. Workers who are experiencing psychosocial demands may also be less likely to report symptoms of musculoskeletal distress.

Psychosocial risk factors do not always result in a negative impact related to MSDs, according to the study. Having control over a job, for example, might mitigate the effects of high work demands.

The study did not suggest associations between specific psychosocial risk factors and particular MSDs, and researchers found no evidence that some groups of workers were more susceptible to MSDs than others. They cautioned that addressing the psychosocial risk factors for MSDs often requires changes throughout an organization and is therefore more complex than addressing physical factors, which can typically be mitigated through simple interventions.

The EU-OSHA study “Musculoskeletal Disorders: Association with Psychosocial Risk Factors at Work” is available from the agency’s website.

Related: Articles published last year in The Synergist cover mental health in the workplace and how diversity, equity, and inclusion improve psychological safety culture.