Musculoskeletal Health & Ergonomics

According to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), Musculoskeletal Health Disorders (MSDs) accounted for 40% of all lost work days in the UK in 2015, approximately 9.5 million days. Musculoskeletal Health Disorders are the second biggest cause of absence from work in the UK.

One of the biggest reasons for this, particularly in an office-based environment, is the increase in the sedentary lifestyle of employees leading to a host of medical conditions including MSDs, an increased likelihood of Heart Disease, Type 2 Diabetes and obesity.

Display Screen Equipment (DSE) & Workplace Setup

We  as a University population, spend more and more time working from computers, laptops and tablets, it is increasingly important that we ensure that all DSE users, i.e. anyone who uses a computer or laptop continuously for more than an hour, are identified, have their workstations assessed and are taught how to correctly set up their DSE equipment. In doing this we can limit any adverse health effects associated with incorrect DSE set up.

DSE assessments should be carried out for all new starters and whenever there is a significant change to a DSE user’s health status, workstation or become pregnant.

Eye tests are available for DSE users. For more information please visit the Safety Office website

Of the 9.5 million days lost in the UK in 2015 to MSDs, the HSE also stated that just under half of these were from preventable conditions associated with poor DSE and workstation set up. By adhering to University policies on DSE assessments and setup, we can prevent absence caused by MSDs in the University.

Promoting good Musculoskeletal Health

There are many things that we can do as a University to promote healthy workplace practices.

Top tips for a good workplace set up include:

  • Ensure your desk and seat are set up correctly – contact your local DSE assessor if you are unsure of how to set up your desk and ensure that you have completed a DSE assessment.
  • Take regular breaks – it is recommended that everyone takes a break every 30 minutes from their desk and have a lunch break away from their desk . Software is available to prompt you to take breaks from your desk and can be downloaded from
  • Stretches and regular exercise – whether it be at the gym or a 10 minute walk, regular exercise can directly combat the issues resulting from a sedentary role and/or lifestyle. Exercise can also re-energise you, increasing your mental focus enabling you to perform better at work.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day – good hydration promotes good spinal health, important for avoiding musculoskeletal issues.

If you are experiencing pain or discomfort caused by your workstation, refer to the 7 Step Guide to Managing Musculoskeletal Pain at Work (217kb) for advice.

Combatting the rise of the Sedentary Lifestyle

What is a sedentary lifestyle?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has ranked physical inactivity as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality. Given that the majority of office based roles are becoming more and more sedentary, i.e. more and more activity done in a seated position, small rituals added in to the work environment have the potential to bring about positive health changes to mitigate the risks associated with this sedentary work. A sedentary lifestyle is defined as spending 10 or more hours seated in a 24 hour period.

What are the health risks of a sedentary lifestyle?

No matter how fit you consider yourself to be, sedentary behaviours increase the risk of serious health conditions and can be experienced by all. These include:

  • Increased risk of cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease and strokes
  • Increased instances of metabolic diseases such as diabetes and obesity
  • Increases in posture-related musculoskeletal conditions
  • Poor restorative sleep patterns impacting on physical and mental fatigue levels

As well as the precursor to these conditions, there are the common symptoms associated with sitting for up to 60-90 minutes at a time such as headache, muscle aches and pains and a heightened perception of the symptoms associated with mental fatigue and stress. It is common to also be unable to focus as well and cognition can also suffer. This is generally known as work presenteeism, where employees are present at work but do not function to their full capabilities displaying decreased productivity and engagement.

What can be done in the workplace to combat this?

The easiest and most important things to do are to take regular breaks and increase your movement at work.

Good workplace activity rituals include any of the following:

  • The 20-20-20 Rule: Every 20 minutes, look away from your screen for 20 seconds at something 20 yards away
  • The 30 Minute Rule: For every minute block, sit for 20 minutes, stand for 8 minutes and walk around for 2 minutes
  • Incorporate 10 minutes of mental and physical activity into every 2 hours worked
  • Incorporate movement into workplace tasks i.e. set out your office so that you have to get up and walk to the printer
  • Have some of your departmental meetings standing up or walking around

Increased activity not only counters the adverse health effects of a sedentary lifestyle, it promotes focus, concentration and improves cognition as shown in the diagram above.

What can I do to champion these rituals in my workplace?

Talk to your manager about the risks of sedentary lifestyles and the benefits of adopting these workplace rituals into your departmental tasks and daily routines.

For more information on sedentary lifestyles, visit the NHS Choices website


Occupational Health Services can refer employees to a physiotherapist as part of managing an ongoing musculoskeletal health condition. Referrals are at OHS discretion and are for either a one-off functionality assessment or for sessions of treatment for an ongoing work-attributable condition.

For more information about referring an employee to OHS, see our Fit for Work & Referral to OHS page.

Manual Handling

See the Safety Office page on Manual Handling 


I have not completed a DSE assessment. Do I need to?

The University defines a DSE user as someone who works continuously for more than 1 hour a day from either a computer or laptop. If this is true of your work, you are classed as a DSE user and by law are required to complete a DSE assessment. To complete one either talk to your local DSO or complete a self-assessment.

I currently wear glasses and I am a DSE user. Can the University pay for my eye tests and glasses?

The University can fund the cost of your sight test.

If the prescription is for glasses used solely for DSE, part funding can also be provided. If your glasses are also used for reading, driving or everyday use, these cannot be funded by the University. See the Safety Office website for more details.

I am experiencing discomfort with my workstation, what should I do?

Talk to your manager, local DSO or DSE Assessor. Follow the 7 Step Guide to Managing Musculoskeletal Pain at Work (217kb).