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Are you doing enough to tackle musculo-skeletal disorders?  

Musculo-skeletal disorders (MSDs) remain a significant concern for UK employers, accounting for 27% of all work-related ill health cases in 2022/23. This is the second highest cause of workplace ill-health behind stress, anxiety, and depression. MSDs pose a substantial impact on both productivity and employee wellbeing.

Understanding MSDs   

MSDs encompass a range of injuries and disorders that affect the body’s movement or musculo-skeletal system, including muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, discs, and blood vessels. Common MSDs include:

  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome 
  • Tendonitis 
  • Muscle/Tendon Strain 
  • Ligament Sprain 
  • Tension Neck Syndrome 
  • Ruptured/Herniated Disc 
  • Repetitive Strain Injury 
  • Osteoarthritis 
  • Varicose Veins 
  • Back Pain 
  • Tennis Elbow 

The majority (82%) of MSDs affect the neck, back, and upper limbs. MSDs continue to be a major cause of workplace sickness across all industries, affecting both physically demanding and office-based roles. Contributing factors include manual labour, improper posture, working in awkward or tiring positions, extended periods of computer and DSE use, sedentary jobs, and repetitive tasks.

According to the HSE, MSDs are most prevalent in the following high-level industries:  

  • Administrative and support service activities 
  • Construction 
  • Human health and social work activities 

The employer’s responsibility 

It’s clear that irrespective of industry, businesses must take this aspect of employee health seriously. Employers have a legal duty of care to ensure healthy working environments and practices. However, the impact of MSDs on businesses can’t be overlooked – 6.6 million sick days represent significant lost revenue and productivity. Beyond this, the human impact of not prioritising the musculo-skeletal wellbeing of employees can be costly, resulting in chronic pain and health concerns if not managed effectively.  

MSDs are not a new issue, and there are many tried and tested practical ways that organisations can help prevent MSDs from developing or from further exacerbating any existing concerns.  

The reality for office workers 

Most office workers spend between four to nine hours a day seated, equivalent to 67 days per year. For desk-based workers, preventing MSDs requires a proactive approach to ergonomics and regular movement. Practical solutions for reducing MSDs include:  

  • Promote activity: Encourage employees to move around, take breaks from repetitive tasks, and stretch regularly to alleviate the discomfort associated with prolonged sitting. 
  • Breakout areas: Provide spaces for employees to relax, eat, and socialise to get them up and away from their desks.  
  • Proper tools: Ensure that workstations are ergonomically designed, with adjustable chairs, desks, and monitor stands to suit individual needs. 
  • Workstation assessments: Ensure screens, keyboards, and chairs are properly positioned to support good posture and reduce strain. Provide training on proper desk setup and correct posture. There should also be adequate support for hybrid employees or those working remotely.   
  • Adequate lighting: Ensure sufficient natural and artificial lighting to prevent eye strain and awkward postures. 
  • Manage repetition: Where possible, break up repetitive tasks with different activities or ensure regular breaks are taken. 

Addressing MSDs in physically demanding roles 

For manual labour roles, the focus should be on proper techniques and supportive equipment. Reducing the risk of MSDs can be achieved through the following measures: 

  • Training: Provide thorough training on correct lifting, carrying, and movement techniques to prevent strain and injury. 
  • Equipment assessment: Regularly assess and update tools and equipment to ensure they are ergonomic and appropriate for the tasks. 
  • Job rotation: Implement job rotation to avoid repetitive strain by diversifying tasks and reducing the repetition of the same movements. 
  • Frequent breaks: Encourage frequent breaks to allow for rest and recovery, preventing overexertion. 
  • Healthy lifestyle promotion: Promote a healthy lifestyle through proper nutrition and physical activity to support overall musculo-skeletal health. 

Communicating care and commitment 

Beyond this, employers must demonstrate their commitment to employee wellbeing. This could include:  

  • Producing a formal health and wellbeing policy that is clearly communicated and enforced.  
  • Promoting and encouraging an effort to achieve best practice in this area.  
  • Carrying out regular workplace evaluations.  
  • Implementing practical solutions, like those listed above.  
  • Actively engaging with staff to hear and respond to feedback regarding workplace conditions. 

By taking these steps, businesses can reduce the incidence of MSDs, improve productivity, and foster employee loyalty. Preventing or minimising MSDs requires foresight and minor adjustments, but the benefits far outweigh the costs. Prioritising employee health is a win-win for everyone involved.  

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