How To Accommodate Employees With Musculoskeletal Disorders

best ways accommodate employees musculoskeletal disorders workplace wellness

A large proportion of the adult population is affected by musculoskeletal conditions and this can be hugely detrimental to their quality of life. As well as inducing rare autoimmune diseases and back pain, the NHS website informs us that these conditions can affect the joints, bones and muscles. As an employer, there are multiple ways in which you can support members of staff suffering from musculoskeletal conditions. 

Preventative measures are the first way to implement change for employees, and employers must also work towards accommodating staff with existing conditions. 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 2022. 

So, what preventative action can they take to stop these types of disorders developing? And, how can employers support their staff with musculoskeletal disorders? Read on as we explore the issues further. 

How Best To Prevent Musculoskeletal Disorders 

In order to prevent new injuries from occurring or existing strains to worsen, companies should implement certain methods which will lessen employees’ chances of musculoskeletal disorders. 

In 2022, 507,000 workers suffered from work-related (new or long-standing) musculoskeletal disorders (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. 

Employers should be aware that ome WRMSDs are associated with certain work patterns, these include: 

- 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. 

Employees should be mindful of potential triggers in their organisation in order to prevent potential musculoskeletal disorders. They should encourage their staff to take breaks or move away from their workstations frequently (at least once every hour). 

Although the number of people with musculoskeletal disorders is reducing, it is still hugely impacting the UK workforce. 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 recognize if their employees are at risk of WRMSDs and take appropriate preventative measures. 

What Can You Do To Help Employees? 

As musculoskeletal conditions are so prevalent in today’s workforce, it is a concern that employers inevitably must accommodate. What can employers do to make work more enjoyable for these employees? And potentially reduce the number of sick days taken? 

Working From Home 

As many employees do not feel fully fit to work, they attend work with reduced efficiency and productivity, this is known as 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. 

Another difficult element of working with a musculoskeletal condition is the commute, as employees can suffer considerable pain getting in and out of a vehicle and riding public transport. 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. 

Working from home can also be beneficial as it allows employees to be flexible and factor in regular rehabilitation or physiotherapy appointments in their own time. Perhaps their rehabilitation center 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 

Another good way to improve comfort, prevent further injuries and reduce absenteeism is asking employees if they require specialist equipment at work. 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 muscle 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. 

Complementary Therapy 

Offering complementary therapy at work can be another helpful way to support your employees. Although sufferers of musculoskeletal pain are generally prescribed their own medication or may use other back pain relief methods this could be something that employers could fund or offer to the full workforce. 

Stress and anxiety in the workplace can have a dramatic impact on pain levels and must therefore be kept at a minimal level. There is a clear link between musculoskeletal disorders, mental health and work loss. In fact, depression is four times more common among 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. 

One complementary therapy that has been found to improve the well-being of those with musculoskeletal pain is Yoga. 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. 

Other Methods Of Support 

Valuing workers and making sure they feel supported is of the utmost importance. 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. 

Recognizing 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’ Program — 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. 

How Do Musculoskeletal Disorders Impact Employment? 

Research has found that one in four of the UK adult population are affected by musculoskeletal disorders. Based on data gathered in 2022, 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 2021, but it’s still an issue that must be considered. 

Those who suffer from musculoskeletal conditions unfortunately struggle with full attendance— resulting in periods of absenteeism. In fact, 30 million working days were lost due to these conditions in 2021 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.

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