A guide to accommodating employees with musculoskeletal disorders
Musculoskeletal disorder is more common than you think, and this condition can actually have an impact on the joints, bones and muscles. 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.
Although people may suffer from such conditions already, you need to make sure that they’re not worsened because of 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.
The impact on employability
Studies have shown that one in four adults here in Britain are affected by musculoskeletal problems. 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.
Attendance can be impacted too if those with musculoskeletal problems find it difficult to get to and from 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.
Completing work tasks at home
Working remote is becoming more common than eve before. 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.
You also should think about the commute each employee with a musculoskeletal disorder has to make, and how it could be extremely damaging for them. 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.
As well as this, employees will probably attend doctor appointments at times more convenient to them and then make up the time for their internal tasks. 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.
Specialist equipment checklist for musculoskeletal employees:
- 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.
If you’re living with knee joint pain, yoga could be beneficial if introduced as a daily routine. 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.
If you haven’t looked into this issue before, now is the time. 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.
Lee Dover is a senior copywriter at Mediaworks with an interest in healthcare as well as researching into healthier ways of living. He has a BA (Hons) in Magazine Journalism.
State of Musculoskeletal Health 2017 report — Arthritis Research UK