The NHS describes musculoskeletal conditions as a disorder that impacts on the bones, joints and muscles. In fact, it also includes rare autoimmune diseases. 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.
How you treat staff with this condition in the workplace is vital to morale. 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 you do more to help staff with musculoskeletal disorders? Explore preventative actions you can take to stop these types of disorders worsening because of work-related activities.
Employing people with musculoskeletal disorders
For anyone experiencing back pain and pain in other areas of the body, going to work every day can be an ordeal. Did you know that one in four of the UK adult population are affected by musculoskeletal disorders? 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. Although there is actually a decline of musculoskeletal disorders, it remains a problem.
Staff with musculoskeletal conditions may be absent more than their colleagues. 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.
Assisting those with the condition
The number of people with this disorder means that most employers will encounter it at some point. What can you do to make work more enjoyable for employees and reduce the number of sick days taken?
Complementary therapy alongside medication may assist employees and relieve pain. It’s important to reduce stress in the workplace, particularly if you have employees that suffer from musculoskeletal conditions. 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.
Why not yoga in the workplace? 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.
Even if your employee comes to work, they may not be fully fit to do their job to the best of their ability every day — this is presenteeism. 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.
Musculoskeletal pain can make getting on a bus or into a car extremely painful, affecting a worker’s commute to their job. 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.
Going to a physiotherapy class is also easier if a person works from home. It’s also easier for them to make up for lost hours in their own time. 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.
Check with your employee to see if the need certain equipment to make life at work less painful. Examples of these include:
- Ergonomic keyboard — designed to reduce muscle strain. For sufferers of musculoskeletal disorders, tasks that may be easy for some — like using a keyboard, mouse or pen — can be difficult for someone who suffers with repetitive strain injury. Those with arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome may also struggle with these types of tasks.
- Sitting or standing desks — for some, standing upright may be more comfortable than sitting in the same position for a prolonged period.
- Lifting assistance — where lifting is required as part of the job, offering assistance with heavy lifting can be helpful. A trolley can help employees transport objects.
- Other equipment — by talking to employees, you can find out about other types of specialist equipment that could be helpful.
Other ways to support staff
Showing that you are trying to support staff is good for morale. What else can you do to improve life for staff with musculoskeletal disorders?
- Improve communication inside and outside of the workplace and learn about your 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.
- Spot the issue early. 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 measures in place that will encourage the employee to return to work ASAP.
- Creating a ‘return-to-work’ programme for those who have sustained an injury. This reduces the risk of them taking a long period of sick leave through appropriate adjustments in their working environment.
Preventative measures help reduce the chances of new injuries occurring or existing ones from worsening.
507,000 workers suffered from work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMSDs) (new or long-standing) in 2016/17. 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. Construction, agriculture, forestry and fishing, and transportation and storage all have higher than average rates of workers with musculoskeletal disorders. Research also found that WRMSDs are more prevalent in males.
WRMSDs can occur in jobs that feature:
- Fixed or constrained body positions.
- The repetition 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.
To help, you should encourage staff to take breaks at least once every hour.
The UK workforce would benefit from better measure being implemented to help with musculoskeletal disorders. 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.