Musculoskeletal Injuries

Musculoskeletal injuries are the most common and expensive occupational health problem in the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Causes of musculoskeletal injuries (also known as musculoskeletal disorders, repetitive-stress, repetitive-strain and repetitive-motion injuries, and cumulative-trauma disorders) include repetitive motion, heavy lifting, awkward posture or a combination of these factors. In the landscaping industry, tasks such as lifting and carrying, using powered and non-powered tools, reaching, bending and pushing and pulling heavy loads throughout the day can lead to musculoskeletal injuries – most commonly, sprains to the back, neck and shoulders.

Fortunately, there are some simple steps both employers and crew members can take to prevent these injuries.

Checklist for Employers and Supervisors:

  • Comply with regulations. OSHA cites for hazards related to musculoskeletal injuries under the General Duty Clause, which requires you to keep your workplace free from recognized hazards. Check with your state and local agencies to learn what additional regulations might apply.

  • Train workers in safe lifting practices. Also teach them other ways to reduce their risk of musculoskeletal injuries.

  • Have your workers’ compensation carrier help you reduce musculoskeletal injuries. Most will do this at no additional cost besides your annual premium by: reviewing injury/illness records and claims to find out if there is a pattern of musculoskeletal injuries in certain jobs or tasks; analyzing jobs or work tasks to identify potential hazards; and seeking employee input.

  • Encourage or lead workers in stretching and conditioning exercises before they begin tasks. Warming up reduces the risk of musculoskeletal injuries.

  • Create task schedules with the risk of musculoskeletal injuries in mind. Allows crew members to take frequent breaks from repetitive-motion tasks and rotate to other duties. Also allow micro-breaks – 20- to 30-second pauses in which workers stop performing tasks and stretch. Encourage crew members to do this about every 15 minutes, especially if their tasks are repetitive. In addition, they should alternate between chores that require gripping tools and those that don’t, and between strenuous tasks and lighter-duty ones.

  • Buy ergonomic spray nozzles. If workers will be performing spraying tasks for long periods, provide spray nozzles designed to minimize hand force and keep the wrist in a straight position. Pistol-grip handles are better than those activated with a single finger.

  • Give crew members manual and mechanical devices for lifting and carrying heavy loads. These devices can include wheelbarrows, dollies, hand trucks, forklifts and skid - steer loaders.

  • Make sure employees keep tools free of rust and blades sharp and use the right tool for the job. This reduces exertion and chances for musculoskeletal injuries.

  • Provide shoulder straps to be worn by employees when they operate certain equipment. Equip or buy line trimmers, hedge trimmers, leaf blowers and similar equipment with shoulder harnesses or straps, and make sure employees use them. These devices are effective at preventing pulled and strained muscles and muscle fatigue.

Employee Dos and Don’ts


  • Keep your back straight when performing repetitive tasks.

  • Exercise regularly to strengthen joints and muscles. Being in good physical shape helps your body endure repetitive motions.

  • Use wheeled devices for carrying bulky and/or heavy loads. Using wheel barrows, dollies, hand trucks, forklifts and skid-steer loaders can significantly reduce your risk for injury.

  • Wear shoulder harnesses or straps when they are available. Line trimmers, leaf blowers and hedge trimmers are often equipped with these. Adjust the strap to the best fit for you. These devices are designed to take pressure off your back and arms, reducing muscle fatigue and pulled muscles.

  • Use the right tool for the job, and keep tools with blades sharpened. Using sharp tools takes less effort.

  • Stretch before work and during breaks. Also take micro-breaks – 20- to 30-second pauses in which you stop performing tasks.

  • Properly lift and lower objects weighing 50 pounds or less.

    • Face the object, place your feet shoulder-width apart and make sure your footing is firm.
    • Ensure gloves fit correctly and get a good grip on the object.
    • Keep the load close to your body and directly in front of you. Keep your elbows, chin and arms tucked in tight and your body weight directly over your feet.
    • Bend at your knees and lift with your legs while keeping your back as straight as possible.
    • Lift or lower the object in a smooth, controlled motion. Avoid twisting


  • Stay in the same position for a long time. When standing or bending for long periods, shift weight from foot to foot.

  • Twist your back as this strains the spine. Instead, turn your feet and arms to reach for objects.

  • Overextend your reach while on a ladder. You should not lift bulky loads, those weighing more than 50 pounds or those weighing more than 35 pounds (if you are doing repetitive lifting) without assistance.

  • Change your grip during a lift, unless you can safely support the weight during the grip transition.

  • Lift loads higher than your chest or toss objects weighing more than 5 pounds.

  • Reach forward, overhead or behind your back when lifting or lowering objects.

Additional Resources:

NIOSH Ergonomics and Musculoskeletal Disorders topic page –

NIOSH Musculoskeletal Health Program –

Federal OSHA’s Ergonomics topic page –

EU-OSHA Musculoskeletal Disorders topic page –