Wednesday 26 June 2019

Helping Staff with Musculoskeletal Disorders

Extracted from the NHS official website, musculoskeletal disorders can impact the joints, bones and muscles — but also result in significant back pain. Unfortunately, many of the adult population are affected by these sorts of conditions and this can massively impact their quality of life. Employers must therefore consider how their own staff are affected by these sorts of conditions and what they can do to help.

As a business owner, you must accommodate for staff members that suffer from such conditions, but also make sure that they aren’t caused in the workplace. One study, carried out by the HSE (Health and Safety Executive in Great Britain), discovered that 507,000 workers suffered from a work-related musculoskeletal disorder (new or long-standing) in 2016/17.

How can businesses help their staff? And, what preventative action can they take to stop these types of disorders developing? Read on as we explore the issues further.

The relationship with musculoskeletal disorders and the working world

Based on data gathered in 2016/17, 45% of musculoskeletal disorders are to do with the upper limbs or neck, 38% to do with the back, and 17% involve the lower limbs. Out of sufferers within working age (16-64), 59.4% are employed. There is a downward trend of musculoskeletal disorders per 100,000 from 2001 to 2017, but it’s still an issue that must be considered.

Because of the disorder, some employees may find it difficult to keep up with their attendance. In fact, 30 million working days were lost due to these conditions in 2016 which can be costly for employers. Based on calculations that consider the average UK salary and a working day of 7.5 hours, an individual sick day can cost an employer £107.85 if the worker receives full sick pay. There is also the cost of work being covered, perhaps this is by another employee who then can’t do their own work.

How your business can help

Many people suffer from musculoskeletal conditions, so if someone on your team does, you must accommodate. What can employers do to make work more enjoyable for these employees? And potentially reduce the number of sick days taken?

Remote working

Many people feel as though that working from home can put less stress on their body — so this could be an option. 39% of public sector workers and 26% of private sector workers have experienced this in their own workplace according to the ONS (Office for National Statistics). Presenteeism often occurs because an employee is afraid to call in sick out of fear of being penalised by their employer. One way to address this for sufferers of musculoskeletal disorders is to provide them with the option to work from home.

Commuting can be difficult for someone who experiences such pain. Instead, employees can stay at home where they may feel more comfortable and get on with their work — reducing lost productivity time that may occur if they come into work.

If you enable your staff to work from home, they can carry out regular physio therapy sessions in their own time and make up the lost hours. Perhaps their rehabilitation centre is closer to home than it is for work, and less time may be spent getting to and from their sessions than if they were travelling from the company.

Equipment at work

It’s always important to ask your staff who may suffer from such conditions what they require in the office. Examples of these include:

  • Sitting or standing desks — Giving employees the option of a sitting or standing desk is one way to help. For some, standing upright may be more comfortable than sitting in the same position for a prolonged period.
  • Ergonomic keyboard — These are designed to reduce muscle strain and should be offered to employees. For sufferers of musculoskeletal disorders, tasks that may be easy for some such as using a keyboard, mouse or pen can be difficult for someone who suffers with repetitive strain injury for example. Those with arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome may also struggle with these types of tasks.
  • Lifting assistance — Where lifting is required as part of the job, offering assistance with heavy lifting can be helpful. A trolley for example can help employees transport objects that they might be struggling with. This may relieve shoulder painfor example and can help prevent further injury and strain.
  • Other equipment — By talking to employees, company bosses can find out about other types of specialist equipment that could be helpful — tailored to each person and their needs.

Therapy at work

Most of your staff who suffer from such conditions will have their own prescribed medication, but have you considered appointing an internal therapist for your staff? It could be something that employers could fund or offer to the full workforce.

You must also make sure that your staff aren’t overworked, so try and keep staff stress levels at a minimum and make sure that they enjoy coming to work — this will also ensure that they remain productive. There is a clear link between musculoskeletal disorders, mental health and work loss. In fact, depression is four times more common amongst people in persistent pain compared to those without pain. Ensuring that all employees have someone to talk to if they are feeling under pressure is important and encouraging positive energy throughout the workforce with social events can also help. If employees are feeling extra stress, it could be worth looking into hiring extra staff or referring workers for therapy for example.

Yogo is renowned for helping those with musculoskeletal issues. There are many ways that employers could encourage their workers to participate in this exercise — through organised classes within break times or after work, or through funding the classes. Although expensive, it’s possible that this extra exercise will help manage pain levels and reduce sick days.

Additional support methods

All business owners will want to make sure that their staff feel appreciated. What else can employers do to retain staff with musculoskeletal disorders?

  • Promote good communication inside and outside of the workplace — Employers should take time to learn about each of their employees and their issues. This way, appropriate changes can be made at work which can encourage workers to come to their boss with problems and suggestions.
  • Recognising and being aware of the conditions early on — If an employee has recently been diagnosed with a musculoskeletal issue, they should be encouraged to tell their employer as soon as possible. This allows for the company to intervene early and get the measures in place that will encourage the employee to return to work as soon as they can.
  • Creating a ‘return-to-work’ programme — For those who have sustained an injury, creating a phased return could be beneficial for them. This reduces the risk of them taking a long period of sick leave through appropriate adjustments in their working environment.

In 2016/17, 507,000 workers suffered from a work-related musculoskeletal disorder (WRMSDs). Because of this, 8.9 million working days were lost to WRMSDs in the UK in this time period — accounting for 35% of all working days lost. Understandably, some industries have higher than average rates of musculoskeletal disorders because of the nature of the job; these are construction, agriculture, forestry and fishing, and transportation and storage. Research also found that WRMSDs are more prevalent in males.

Some of these WRMSDs are related to specific work patterns such as:

  • Fixed or constrained body positions.
  • The repletion of the same movements.
  • Forced concentration on small parts of the body such as the hands or the wrist.
  • Working without sufficient recovery between movements.

If you’re looking to prevent any additional harm to those who suffer with musculoskeletal disorder, you must know the potential triggers. Employers should encourage their staff to take breaks or move away from their workstations frequently (at least once every hour).

This is still a core issues in the UK and must become a focus. Therefore, employers must take action to help employees through specialist equipment, the option of working from home, and potentially funding complementary therapy or even sending thoughtful gifts like gels to help relieve back pain. They should also recognise if their employees are at risk of WRMSDs and take appropriate preventative measures.

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