Skip Navigation
Safety guides and audits to make your job as a safety professional easier

Analyzing the Workplace

Gathering and Examining Evidence of MSDs


Once a decision has been made to initiate an ergonomics program, a necessary step is to gather information to determine the scope and characteristics of the problem or potential problem. A variety of techniques and tools have been used; many provide the basis for developing solutions to identified problems.

  • Following up of worker reports
  • Reviewing OSHA 300 logs
  • Conducting symptom surveys
  • Using periodic medical examinations
  • Identifying Risk Factors in Jobs
    • Screening jobs for risk factors
    • Performing job analyses
    • Setting priorities

1. Each of the following are techniques to help determine the scope and characteristics of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in the workplace EXCEPT _____.

a. conducting symptom surveys
b. war-gaming possible scenarios
c. reviewing OSHA 300 logs
d. identifying risk factors in jobs

Next Section

Conditions and Symptoms

What are some of the clues that MSDs are a real or possible workplace problem? Some signs are obvious while others are more subtle.

  • OSHA Form 300 logs or workers compensation claims show cases of MSDs such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, tenosynovitis, epicondylitis, and low back pain. Sometimes these records contain nonspecific entries like "hand pain," which may be an indicator of a significant health problem if severe or persistent.

  • Certain jobs or work conditions cause worker complaints of undue strain, localized fatigue, discomfort, or pain that does not go away after overnight rest.

  • Workers visiting the clinic make frequent references to physical aches and pains related to certain types of work exercises.

  • Job tasks involve at risk activities such as repetitive and forceful exertions, frequent, heavy, or overhead lifts, awkward work positions, or use of vibrating equipment.

Here are some other examples of symptoms that should trigger evaluations.

If you uncover signs like these in your workplace, it might be a good idea to request a confidential evaluation by OSHA or insurer ergonomics consultant. Ergonomic evaluations may uncover significant problems and be very helpful in correcting them.

Other sources that could alert employers to potential problems include the following:

  • Trade publications, insurer newsletters, or references in popular literature indicating risks of MSDs

  • Cases of MSDs found among competitors or in similar businesses

  • Proposals for increasing line speed, retooling, or modifying jobs to increase individual worker output and overall productivity

2. Which OSHA Form is most likely to help as a proactive tool used to uncover MSDs?

a. OSHA 301 Report
b. OSHA 300 Log
c. OSHA Investigation Form
d. OSHA Inspection Report

Next Section

Following up on Worker Reports

Assuring that employees feel free to report, as early as possible, symptoms of physical stress is a key component of any ergonomics program. Early reporting makes it possible to begin corrective measures before the effects of a job problem worsen. When employees feel comfortable reporting their symptoms or other concerns, it indicates a high level of trust between labor and management.

As mentioned earlier, individual worker concerns that certain jobs cause undue physical fatigue, stress, or discomfort may be signs of ergonomic problems. Following up on these reports, particularly reports of MSDs, is essential. Such reports indicate a need to evaluate the jobs to identify ergonomic risk factors.

Reviewing OSHA Logs and Records

Inspecting OSHA 300 logs and plant medical records, as well as workers compensation claims, insurance claims, absentee records, and job transfer applications can yield information about the nature of MSDs.

Finding workers in certain departments or operations experiencing more of these problems than others would suggest some immediate areas for study with regard to possible risk factors.

Jobs with elevated rates of low back musculoskeletal disorders often also have higher risks for acute injuries due to slips and trips or other safety hazards. In these cases, acute musculoskeletal injuries may also be an important problem.

3. Jobs with elevated rates of low back musculoskeletal disorders often also have higher risks for acute injuries due to _____ or other safety hazards.

a. slips and trips
b. punctures and lacerations
c. crushing blows
d. pinched nerves

Next Section


Conducting symptoms surveys

Interviews or symptom surveys can be used to identify possible MSDs that might otherwise go unnoticed. In addition to questions about the type, onset, and duration of symptoms, symptom survey forms may include a body map. The employee is asked to locate and rate the level of discomfort experienced in different areas of his or her body. The assumption is that any discomfort or symptoms may be associated with some increased risk for MSDs.

Using Periodic Medical Examinations

A disadvantage of using OSHA logs or company medical information to identify possible cases of MSDs is the lack of specific or uniform medical information. This limitation may make identifying MSDs difficult. One optional approach to overcome this limitation is to have each worker undergo a periodic standard examination that includes a history and physical examination. Such an examination program should be designed and administered by a health care provider.

4. A disadvantage of using OSHA logs or company medical information to identify possible cases of MSDs is the _____.

a. difficulty in locating the information
b. lack of specific or uniform medical information
c. understanding the information
d. relying on experts for the information

Check your Work

Read the material in each section to find the correct answer to each quiz question. After answering all the questions, click on the "Check Quiz Answers" button to grade your quiz and see your score. You will receive a message if you forgot to answer one of the questions. After clicking the button, the questions you missed will be listed below. You can correct any missed questions and check your answers again.

Next Module