Musculoskeletal Disorders in large estates, golf courses, sports grounds


Musculoskeletal Disorders in large estates, golf courses, sports grounds

For help in reducing absence from Musculoskeletal Disorders, please contact us

Published in Greenkeeper International November 2013

Musculoskeletal Disorders in Land Management and golf courses. (Back Pain, Tendonitis, Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome, Carpel Tunnel Syndrome)

Any large estate or golf course is a dangerous place. The list of hazards is a long one, heavy plant and tractor use, vehicle maintenance, chainsaw use, work at height, confined spaces, lifting and transport of heavy loads, working on natural terrain, the list goes on and on.

Generally speaking, those risks are managed by assessment. The hazards are visible, the risk is obvious, so procedures are put in place reducing the likelihood of an accident.

These risks are categorised as low likelihood (you can go years without any incidents) high outcome events (potential for serious harm). It is a combination that focuses the mind when completing a risk assessment; you can visualise the accident and outcome assessing the risk as high.

However, experience tells us this is not the only place staff are at risk. There are hidden exposures, too often taken for granted and ignored in the risk assessment process. These are high likelihood – low outcome exposures. High likelihood because exposure is certain; low outcome because the resulting injuries are not immediate nor obviously associated with work. One category of this injury type is Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs).

These injuries often happen over a long period of time and have a variety of causes that can be work related: poor ergonomics; poor posture; repetitive tasks; the exertion of excessive force; working in restricted spaces or badly planned manual handling. MSDs include upper limb and lower limb problems and/or back pain. If diagnosed they can be treated – but if not treated the condition can degenerate further and can become chronic.


Types of MSD

WRULDs (Work Related Upper Limb Disorders)

This is a group of conditions that affect the arms, wrists and hands. They are caused by forceful, frequent twisting and repetitive movements. Common types of WRULDS are Tendonitis, Carpel Tunnel Syndrome and Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome.

  • Tendonitis is commonly known as tennis/golfers elbow (medial/lateral epicondylitis) and is caused by repetitive movements and excessive workloads without adequate rest periods.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when tendons or ligaments in the wrist become enlarged, often as a result of repetitive use. Excessive use of vibrating tools can aggravate carpal tunnel syndrome and cause hand arm vibration syndrome.
  • Hand arm vibration syndrome affects the blood vessels, nerves, muscles and joints of the hand. This is a widespread condition that affects thousands of workers,  symptoms range from a tingling of the fingers in its mildest form to extreme pain and reduced gripping capability at its severest.

Causal Factors In Land Management

  • Use of hand held vibrating equipment (Strimmers, Chainsaws, Hedge trimmers, Pedestrian Mowers, Pedestrian Aerators, Wack plate, Turf Cutter, Hand held aerators, hand held grinding equipment)
  • Hole changing (repetition)

Back Pain

Resulting in a strain of the muscle or other soft tissue connected to the vertebrae. Sometimes it is the intervertebral disc that is strained causing it to bulge. This is called a slipped, prolapsed or herniated disc results in the damaged disc pressing on the spinal nerve. If it presses the sciatic nerve, the pain will be felt in the leg some distance from the source of the pain.

Depending on which vertebrae are affected, the pain can be felt down the back of the leg, or in some cases down the thighs. Eight out of ten adults will have some form of back pain during their life. In many cases there is not a specific underlying problem or condition that can be identified as the cause of the pain.

Causal Factors In land Management

  • Sitting for long periods of time in plant
  • Postural Constraints in task design
  • Bending for long periods
  • Excessive manual handling
  • Whole Body Vibration (tractor use with heavy PTO driven equipment)


WRLLDs (Work Related Lower Limb Disorders)

Affecting the hips, legs and ankles these are less common injuries, symptoms are sore tendons, stiffness, weakness, cramp, and swelling of the joints and tendons.

Causal Factors In land Management

  • Strain (Excessive use of force to drive hydraulic pedals, work brakes and clutches in heavy plant)
  • Stress (Inability to adjust seating positioning in equipment with prolonged use)

Users of early hydraulic driven machinery will be familiar with the phrase triplex knee; this was in fact a WRLLD caused by the constant, excessive pressure exerted on the knee by a badly designed drive pedal.


Sprains and Strains

Where a ligament is stretched beyond its capacity, most common in the arm or wrist,  generally happens as the result of an accident or poorly planned tasks.

Causal Factors In land Management

  • Fatigue (the sudden use of a muscle that has been idle for a while).
  • Repetition (Fatiguing the muscle or tendon)

Abdominal Hernia

A common injury occurring as a result of a weakness in the abdominal wall which develops into a localised hole through which abdominal organs may protrude. The likelihood of a hernia is increased by a bad diet or smoking.

Causal Factors In land Management

  • Lifting (any excessive manual handling task).
  • Digging (any excavation done manually; also involves lifting).



How to avoid MSD’s in Land Management

  • Avoid manual handling and repetitive tasks if you can.
  • Where it cannot be avoided, reduce it’s impact on the body by rotating tasks, reducing loads and using manual handling aids
  • If a task can be mechanised, do so. The investment will be paid back in less work-hours lost.Organise your deliveries and manage your storage to minimise distances travelled and loads carried. Stack things so they are easily accessible and to avoid stooping or bending.
  • Ask staff to make suggestions to improve task design.
  • Do not expose staff to vibration beyond the Exposure Limit Value
  • Allow breaks from repetitive or forceful tasks.
  • Train staff to stretch back and tendons on a regular basis.
  • Ask for concerns to be reported, and act on them.

About the Author

John Ross CMIOSH MG administrator

Once a Head Chef then a Golf Course Manager, had the good fortune to work at a marvellous golf club and achieved Master Greenkeeper status. I became a Chartered Safety Practitioner in a career swerve and have since found myself serving golf clubs all over the UK in numerous roles from; course consultant; recruitment consultant. Its been a hell of a ride.

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