Musculoskeletal Disorders: How Can Employers Help?

The joints, muscles and bones are all affected by musculoskeletal conditions, which make these disorders debilitating. Sadly, many of the adult population are affected by musculoskeletal conditions and this can massively impact their quality of life. Employers must therefore consider how their own staff is affected by these sorts of conditions and what they can do to help.

In order to ensure that your workplace isn’t too adversely affected by musculoskeletal conditions, you must try to assist staff. 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.

So, what can be done on an employer’s part to help? Explore preventative actions you can take to stop these types of disorders worsening because of work-related activities.


Musculoskeletal disorders in the UK workforce

A normal working life can be incredibly tough for someone with this type of condition. Did you know that one in four of the UK adult population are affected by musculoskeletal disorders? 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. Although there is actually a decline of musculoskeletal disorders, it remains a problem.

If you don’t want the number of sick days to rise at your business, then help those with musculoskeletal disorders. 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.


Helping your staff

These conditions are prevalent, so you need to consider how to help people now before it’s too late. So, what can you do to make work more enjoyable for employees and reduce the number of sick days taken by those who simply can’t work at times?


Working patterns

Some people will come to work regardless of how well they can fulfil their role. Nearly 40% of public sector workers and 26% of private sector workers have experienced presenteeism — not being able to do a job to the best of their abilities — in their 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.

Commutes to work can really affect pain levels. Why not let your employees stay at home where they may feel more comfortable and can get on with their work? This might reduce lost productivity time that may occur if they come into work.

It’s also easier for staff to make up for lost hours in their own time, rather than making them stay behind at the office, which may make their pain worse. 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.


New equipment to alleviate pain

The tools and kit your employees use will also affect pain levels? Examples of helpful kit include:

  • Lifting apparatus — assistance with heavy lifting is practical. A trolley can help employees transport items.
  • Standing desks — being upright may be more comfy than sitting.
  • Ergonomic keyboards — sufferers of musculoskeletal disorders can find using computer gear tough. Lower the chances of repetitive strain injury by searching for ergonomic alternatives.

You should also chat to staff to ascertain specialist equipment that might be handy.


Pain-relieving therapy in the office

Employees searching for relief from back pain can decrease the intensity with therapy. And you should encourage this, as there is a clear link between musculoskeletal disorders, mental health and work loss. In fact, depression is four times more common amongst 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 easy way to bring therapy to the workplace and show you care about your staff’s wellbeing is yoga. Encourage 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 tactics to adopt to help employees

If you show you’re thinking about the wellbeing of your staff, the respect and appreciation will be returned. What else can you do to improve life for staff with musculoskeletal disorders?

  • Put in place a ‘return-to-work’ programme: this reduces the risk of staff taking a long period of sick leave through appropriate adjustments in their working environment.
  • Be vigilant and identify the problem early: this allows for you to intervene ASAP and get measures in place that will lower the risk of many sick days being taken.
  • Enhance communication: this way, appropriate changes can be made at work, which can encourage employees to offer suggestions.


Reducing the risk of sick day increases

Your focus as a boss is to reduce the risk of sick days and keep productivity as high as possible. 507,000 workers suffered from work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMSDs) (new or long-standing) in 2016/17. 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. Research also found that WRMSDs are more prevalent in males.

Reportedly, agriculture, fishing, construction, forestry, and transportation all have higher than normal rates of employees with musculoskeletal conditions. The below can boost the chances of work-related musculoskeletal disorders:

  • Fixed body positions to carry out tasks.
  • Repeating the same actions.
  • Forcing concentration on parts of the body (e.g. hands or wrists).
  • Not having ample recovery between tasks. To help, you should encourage staff to take breaks every hour.

The efficiency and productivity of a worker can be reduced if musculoskeletal disorders are not noticed, addressed and assisted. 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.


Author bio

Louise Richardson is a copywriter at Mediaworks digital agency. With more than three years of experience in copywriting, Louise has worked for Visualsoft and Hays Travel prior to Mediaworks and achieved a first-class degree from the University of Sunderland in 2010.



State of Musculoskeletal Health 2017 report — Arthritis Research UK