Musculoskeletal injuries and risk factors in the workplace.

Workplace injuries, particularly musculoskeletal injuries, have significant implications for both employees and employers in New Zealand. Musculoskeletal injuries are the leading cause of work-related disabilities worldwide and substantially impact employee productivity, healthcare costs, and overall well-being1.

How prevalent are musculoskeletal injuries in New Zealand?

Musculoskeletal injuries encompass a range of conditions affecting the muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, and other supporting structures. In New Zealand, these injuries account for a significant portion of workplace accidents. According to the latest data from WorkSafe New Zealand, musculoskeletal injuries accounted for approximately 30% of all workplace injuries in the country2. These injuries are prevalent across various industries, including construction, agriculture, healthcare, and manufacturing.

What types of musculoskeletal injuries occur?

Musculoskeletal injuries can manifest in various forms, including strains, sprains, fractures, and repetitive strain injuries (RSIs). Strains and sprains, commonly caused by sudden movements, lifting heavy objects, or poor ergonomics, are among the most prevalent types of injuries. Fractures, often resulting from falls or accidents involving machinery, can have severe consequences. RSIs, such as carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis, are caused by repetitive motion or overuse of specific body parts.

What are the risk factors for musculoskeletal injuries?

Several risk factors contribute to the occurrence of musculoskeletal injuries in the workplace. These factors can be categorised into individual, ergonomic, and organisational factors.

  • Individual risk factors include age, physical fitness, pre-existing health conditions, and lifestyle choices.
  • Ergonomic factors refer to the design of workstations, tools, equipment, and the layout of the workspace. Poor ergonomic design, such as incorrect seating posture, inadequate lighting, and can increase the risk of injuries.
  • Organisational factors include high work demands, lack of breaks, inadequate training, and long working hours.

What are the implications of musculoskeletal injuries?

Musculoskeletal injuries have far-reaching implications for both employees and employers in New Zealand. From an employee’s perspective, their likelihood of injury depends on their unique characteristics and situation. Employees may be exposed to several (and in many cases, all) of the work-related risk factors at the same time. The more factors the worker is exposed to, the higher the likelihood of injury. These injuries can lead to pain, physical limitations, and reduced quality of life. They often result in extended absences from work, loss of income, and psychological distress3.

For employers, musculoskeletal injuries contribute to reduced productivity, increased absenteeism, higher healthcare costs, and potential legal liabilities. These injuries strain the healthcare system and lead to increased demands for medical resources.

What prevention and mitigation strategies can be implemented to reduce musculoskeletal injuries?

Preventing and mitigating musculoskeletal injuries in the workplace requires a multi-faceted approach involving employees, employers, and regulatory bodies. Organisations can minimise risks by implementing effective control measures3. Examples of control measures include:

  • Risk assessment: By identifying potential hazards, evaluating their likelihood and severity, and implementing appropriate controls, employers can effectively mitigate risks.
  • Elimination: Automating a process or task so that employees don’t have to handle loads i.e., a machine to automatically transfers boxes from the conveyor to the pallet.
  • Substitution: Reducing load weights by replacing large heavy containers with smaller ones that are easier to handle.
  • Engineering: Having easily adjustable workstations to suit employees’ physical differences and demands, allowing different work methods.
  • Administrative: Ensuring employees have been trained on how to do their job and the equipment they need to use.

Organisations must continually monitor the performance of the control measures to ensure they are effective, and no new risks have been introduced in the workplace. If new risks have been identified, control measures must be reviewed, and new controls introduced to ensure that the risks are managed.

Other complementary strategies to be implemented include:

  • Ergonomic assessments: Evaluating and improving the design of workstations and tasks to enhance employee comfort and productivity while minimising the risk of injury. These assessments consider factors like posture, equipment placement, and body mechanics to create a safer and more efficient work environment.
  • Health and safety education: Employees should receive comprehensive training on musculoskeletal injury prevention, including proper lifting techniques, stretching exercises, and the importance of maintaining overall physical fitness.
  • Job rotation and breaks: Employers should consider implementing job rotation and regular breaks to reduce repetitive tasks and allow employees to recover from physical strain.

Musculoskeletal injuries in the workplace pose significant challenges for both employees and employers in New Zealand. By understanding the prevalence, types, and risk factors associated with these injuries, effective strategies can be implemented to prevent and mitigate them. Creating a safe and ergonomic work environment, promoting health and safety education, and encouraging regular breaks are key steps toward reducing the burden of musculoskeletal injuries and ensuring the well-being of the workforce in New Zealand.

At Bodycare, we believe that education and health and safety training are imperative when it comes to creating a safety-first culture in an organisation. We believe that a just, proactive, and informed culture must be embedded within a business and continuously enforced from the top down.

Reach out to our team for more information, visit our website at or email us at

Reviewed by Katie Harper, New Zealand Operations Manager


1 World Health Organization. (July 2022)

2 WorkSafe New Zealand. (2023)

3 WorkSafe New Zealand. (April 2023)