Reviewing the impact of musculoskeletal injuries in construction and trades work

In Alberta, and throughout Canada, there are large number of people who work in construction and construction trade services. These jobs are an important part of our economy and serve purposes in infrastructure development, resource extraction and innovation. Furthermore, work in these sectors offers lucrative wages and opportunities for workers.

It is important to note, however, that these sectors have significant risk factors for occupational injury. In construction/trades work the injury rate is estimated to be 38.5% higher than the national average (at least in the USA) (Forde et al., 2005). It is for this reason that such stringent attention and guidelines for occupational health and safety exist in these sectors – with much of the focus placed on fall protection, industrial hygiene, personal protective, equipment, etc. Substantial and commendable progress in injury reduction has occurred over the last 30 years – owed mostly to the work of OHS professionals.

However, one area of injury that does not typically receive much attention in an OHS program is the impact of job tasks on the musculoskeletal system, and risks for long-term work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD). Yet, a strong argument for improved systems to recognize and manage WMSD can be made. 46.9% of lost time and injuries in these sectors is attributable to musculoskeletal injuries (WorkSafe Alberta, 2011). Obviously, this comes with a significant cost the employer and the employee.

At the same time, these statistics only represent lost-time injuries and most employers in these sectors point out they have very low number of lost-time injuries or incidents on their job sites. Therefore, the total losses associated with WMSD may not be viewed as a priority issue. Yet, the true impact of musculoskeletal injuries on your organization can be far greater than is realized from incident reports.

Research shows that 40-50% of construction and trades employees report WMSD issues in at least 1 body region in previous 6 months, and these issues are not reported to supervisors (for a variety of reasons) (Oude Hengel et al., 2011; Boschman et al.,2012). At any given time period, it is estimated that 5-12% of the active workforce are dealing with WMSD symptoms (Meerding et al., 2005). These symptoms are not at a level that requires time away from work, but may require modified work or reductions in current work capacity. Pain and discomfort associated with the symptoms is noted to reduce worker productivity by 12-28%, depending on severity of symptoms (Meerding et al., 2005).

Consider a medium-sized enterprise of 250 employee in construction and construction trades services. If 12% of workers experience WMSD symptoms and have an average productivity reduction of 17% then:

* It will take 17% longer to complete work for 30 employees

– Cost of 17% increase in wage for 30 employees

– 17% more fuel, materials, rentals among that group

– Costs for delays in starting other processes and project

* Costs can quickly balloon by 100’s of thousands over several months

The impact of WMSD in this sector is significant to both the organization and the employee. In an upcoming blog post, we will look at the long-term health impact WMSD have on employees in these sectors. At this point though, it is clear that a proper system of reorganizing, cataloguing and reduction of WMSD hazards can have a substantial return on investment for a company. Reduction in the number of afflicted employees and the severity of symptoms can lead to improved/maintenance of productivity and therefore improved financial outcomes. Properly trained and experienced Ergonomists can help to develop these programs and integrate them into existing safety policy, programs and management.


Boschman JS, van der Molen HF, Sluiter JK, Frings-Dresen MHW. Musculoskeletal disorders among construction workers: a one-year follow-up study. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders. 2012;13.

Forde MS, Punnett L, Wegman DH. Prevalence of Musculoskeletal Disorders in Union Ironworkers. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene. 2005;2(4):203-12.

Hengel KMO, Blatter BM, van der Molen HF, Bongers PM, van der Beek AJ. The effectiveness of a construction worksite prevention program on work ability, health, and sick leave: results from a cluster randomized controlled trial. Scandinavian Journal of Work Environment & Health. 2013;39(5):456-67.

Meerding WJ, Ijzelenberg W, Koopmanschap MA, Severens JL, Burdorf A. Health problems lead to considerable productivity loss at work among workers with high physical load jobs. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology. 2005;58(5):517-23.

Meerding WJ, Ijzelenberg W, Koopmanschap MA, Severens JL, Burdorf A. Health problems lead to considerable productivity loss at work among workers with high physical load jobs. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology. 2005;58(5):517-23.