Supporting employees with musculoskeletal disorders

The body can be affected by many different musculoskeletal conditions, but the NHS website claims that it harms joints, bones, muscles and cause immense 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 well as having an understanding of musculoskeletal conditions, you must make sure they aren’t caused because of your work environment. 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.

Can employer’s supper their team members who suffer with such issues? And, what preventative action can they take to stop these types of disorders developing? Read on as we explore the issues further.

Musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace

A lot of people are impacted by a musculoskeletal disorder, so much so, that estimates have suggested one in four British adults do so. 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.

People who suffer from such issues could struggle with their attendance at work. 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 can you support your staff members?

There will most definitely be a member of staff in your team that has a musculoskeletal problem. What can employers do to make work more enjoyable for these employees? And potentially reduce the number of sick days taken?

Is working remotely an option?

Staff who struggle to get to work because of pain may be less productive, so why not let them work from home? 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.

If the commute is proven difficult for your staff, you must work with them to resolve the issue. 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. In addition to this, being able to work from home allows these employees to attend regular rehabilitation or physio therapy appointments and make up for the lost hours in their own time, at home. 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.

Investing in helpful specialist equipment

  • 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 pain for 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.

Offering therapy as stress relief for staff

If you have people who suffer from musculoskeletal, it could be beneficial to offer therapy to ensure that they are always in the best state of mind. It could be something that employers could fund or offer to the full workforce.

You also want your staff to have no stress when they come to work. 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.

Encouraging yoga to help with lessening arthritic pain  could also be beneficial. 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.

A support checklist for employers:

  • 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.

Take action with preventative measures

Because of the amount of people who suffered from such conditions, 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.

WRMSD are often associated with the following:

  • 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.

There are a lot of things that can trigger it too. Employers should encourage their staff to take breaks or move away from their workstations frequently (at least once every hour).

This is a rising issue in the UK. Therefore, employers must take action to help employees through specialist equipment, the option of working from home, and potentially funding complementary therapy. They should also recognise if their employees are at risk of WRMSDs and take appropriate preventative measures.

Sources

http://www.hse.gov.uk/Statistics/causdis/musculoskeletal/msd.pdf

https://recruitingtimes.org/opinions/20062/cost-sick-days/

https://www.england.nhs.uk/ourwork/ltc-op-eolc/ltc-eolc/our-work-on-long-term-conditions/si-areas/musculoskeletal/

State of Musculoskeletal Health 2017 report — Arthritis Research UK

https://wellbeing.bitc.org.uk/sites/default/files/business_in_the_community_musculoskeletal_toolkit.pdf