Neck pain. Back pain. Tendonitis. Osteoarthritis. Most of your workforce has had them. Or will do.
But do you know as much about these common conditions as you think – including how badly they impact your business?
The above, along with a host of other ailments, are known as musculoskeletal disorders or MSDs. They affect mechanisms in the body such as the joints, muscles and tendons.
They can be caused or made worse by work or the effects of the work environment, such as manual handling of heavy loads, unfavourable body postures, monotonous/repetitive tasks and high job demands.
The emphasis is on ‘can’ – as these conditions are preventable.
Yet MSDs remain one of the most frequent causes of disability, sick leave and early retirement, plus the most common work-related health problem in Europe.
By preventing and managing MSDs in the workplace, organisations will lower costs, improve productivity, gain worker engagement, reduce staff turnover, improve morale, reduce absence rates and more.
So here are seven simple steps from IOSH supporting the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) Lighten the Load campaign to help you protect your workforce.
- Risk assess – this health and safety favourite really is your best way to predict the various factors that can lead to MSDs. It should consider task, individual, load, work environment and anything else that’s relevant.
- Control the risks – MSDs can be prevented in the same way as other risks. Use the findings of your risk assessment to put controls in place. This doesn’t have to be costly or a big change and could include modifying equipment or making alterations to work practices.
- Take a break – promote a healthy work-life balance and ensure that rest breaks are included. These will enhance the body’s recovery and prevent fatigue.
- Create good ergonomics – balance the requirements of the job and the capacity of the employee. This can be done by adapting the task to the person through design of the work or developing the capacity of the staff member through training and workplace adjustments.
- Choose the best way to do a job – the way in which a worker performs a task can affect MSDs. For example, when lifting a load, the centre of gravity should be close to the body. So, find better ways to perform a task and inform workers of how to do it. Even small improvements will reduce the risks of MSDs.
- Try to prevent before you have to cure – avoiding accidents and injuries in the workplace, which can cause MSDs as well as injuries, should be front and centre of every organisation.
- Report it – it’s important an organisation has processes in place for workers to report MSD issues. The sooner they do, the easier it is for your organisation to prevent the issue developing into something more serious.
Of course, MSDs may be related to what workers do in their personal lives, which contributes to issues at work. This is where awareness training comes in. Having healthy workers who are aware of all MSD hazards and risks and are healthier outside of work will always be a benefit to the organisation.
Given the prevalence of MSDs, making prevention and early intervention measures part of your everyday health and safety management really does make good business sense.