Avoiding musculoskeletal injuries while working with scaffolding

Health and safety is a key priority for scaffolders and scaffolding company owners. The focus in our sector has largely, and rightly, been on falls from height, but significant injuries can occur in seemingly innocuous everyday work scenarios.

Although the majority of people working in the construction industry care about health and safety and are diligent in their work, the construction industry, including scaffolding, remains one of the most dangerous sectors to work in when it comes to musculoskeletal injuries.1

According to statistics from the UK government agency, Health and Safety Executive (HSE), there were 498,000 workers reported to be suffering from work-related musculoskeletal injuries in 2018/19 with 41% of these injuries relating to upper limbs and neck.2

Altogether, HSE reports that 8.9 million working days were lost due to work-related musculoskeletal injuries in 2019/20.3


Musculoskeletal injuries develop when biomechanical demands, such as extreme postures, repeatedly exceed the worker’s physical capacity during construction work. In this regard, overhead work has been identified as a major risk factor for this type of injury in the shoulder region.

Working with the arms raised over 90° for more than 10% of a worker’s working hours increases the risk of work-related musculoskeletal injuries in the shoulder region by one to two thirds.4

Scaffolders are particularly at risk of this injury and should make themselves aware as to the potential impacts of overextending, particularly over prolonged periods of time.


Overhead work remains a very common part of scaffolding, and construction in general. And despite growing automation, numerous strenuous tasks cannot be fully automated, at all or at a reasonable cost. One solution to physically relieve scaffolders while keeping them in control of the task is to assist them with an exoskeleton.

An exoskeleton is a wearable system that provides physical assistance to its user through assistive torques and/or structural support. As the system is worn on the body and follows the user’s movements, no – or very limited – workplace modifications are required. Exoskeletons are drawing great interest as the industry looks to alleviate issues caused by overhead work.


Exoskeletons are designed to enhance productivity by reducing stress on the body, causing less pain and fatigue due to a reduced load on muscles and joints. This reduced stress and increased comfort when working enables scaffolders to improve their health and reduce the amount of sick days they take, provided that they still take the required rest breaks for physical and mental wellbeing.

Tests have proved the effectiveness of the exoskeleton in terms of reducing stress on a worker’s muscles and joints, to improve health and to minimise days lost through ill health.

Scaffolding contractors issuing exoskeletons can grow productivity – improved scaffolder wellbeing and increased on-site productivity will produce longer working periods without sick days.


This article was originally published in AccessPoint Magazine, if you would like to receive future editions of the magazine for free you can join the mailing list here:

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  • 1 HSE, Construction Statistics in Great Britain, 2020
  • 2 HSE, Health and Safety at Work: Summary Statistics for Great Britain, 2019
  • 3 HSE, Work related musculoskeletal disorder statistics (WRMSDs) in Great Britain, 2020
  • 4 Grieve J, Dickerson C., Overhead work: Identification of Evidence-based Exposure Guidelines. Occupational Ergonomics, 2008; 1: 53-66
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