In article for the Safety & Health Practitioner, Jan Vickery, head of clinical operations for AXA PPP healthcare, suggests that many people haven’t heard of the term “musculoskeletal” – but it’s a word that can mean a big headache for employers of all sizes.
According to the Office for National Statistics, back, neck and other musculoskeletal problems cause more work absence in the UK than any other medical condition, accounting for 30.6m (23%) of the 131m lost work days in 2013. They are also the UK’s leading cause of long-term sickness absence, accounting for a third of absence spells of four or more weeks.
Musculoskeletal pain can affect the muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones and those who experience it may feel as though they’ve been stretched, strained or overworked to the limit.
As an employer, it is important to take a proactive approach to managing the musculoskeletal health of your workforce and – to meet your statutory duty to protect employee safety and health – it is crucial to have in place suitable policies, practices and procedures to ensure that the risks your workplace poses to your employees’ musculoskeletal health are properly assessed and addressed.
Attentive management of workplace risks will help to prevent problems but if, despite your best efforts, they should arise early, assessment by a suitably trained occupational health specialist or physiotherapist and referral for suitable (evidence-based) treatment (be it self-guided management, physiotherapy or other manual therapies or specialist care) can go a long way to lessening the threat of musculoskeletal conditions on your business.
Safeguarding employees’ musculoskeletal health is a responsibility that safety and health professionals who advise employers simply cannot afford to overlook. To encourage employers to help their workforces to avoid musculoskeletal problems:
- Ensure that all the organisation’s employees are properly inducted to understand and maintain “work safe” posture and behaviour
- For VDU users, employers should ensure that screens are suitably adjusted and desks and seating are safely configured.
- Employers can also provide employees with information on exercises and other activities to maintain good musculoskeletal health.
- Driving can be a strain on the neck and back – especially if done for long periods of time. Can you promote company incentive schemes to encourage employees to walk or cycle to work?
If an employee is coming back work after having time off with a musculoskeletal condition, employers should make sure they are well supported on their return. There may be psychological problems associated with having had a musculoskeletal condition where there may be little or no physical evidence of having been ill.