Managing musculoskeletal injuries in the workplace

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    • Making small adjustments at work can help to mitigate muscle, bone and joint (musculoskeletal) problems amongst staff; which can be a relief for the employee and the employer.

      An injury isn’t always obvious

      When someone suffers a severe injury at work, we’ll usually see an immediate response. The need to help will be obvious; colleagues, first-aiders and even paramedics may act quickly to assist.

      However, many workplace injuries don’t attract that sort of instant attention. That’s because they’re not caused by a single traumatic event. Instead, they’re caused by seemingly small and harmless actions like bending down to pick up a pen or reaching for a box in an awkward position. They may go totally unnoticed because there’s often no outward sign of injury.

      Many musculoskeletal injuries happen this way: by twisting or bending in the wrong fashion. And some build up over time, where repetitive actions have gone unchecked. For example, sitting incorrectly at a desk – day in, day out.

      A stress on your business

      Regardless of the cause, if someone in your workplace suffers a musculoskeletal injury and has to take time off work, you’ll be a person down. You may have to pay for cover, or have the rest of the team absorb the extra workload. You may see a drop in productivity of up to 39%, as well as a 30% reduction in morale, as shown in our infographic. In short, it could place a huge stress on your business.

      Stressful for the employee

      But it can be hugely stressful for the employee, too. With a broken leg, the world can see you’ve injured yourself; with a pulled muscle and back spasms, despite experiencing what may be severe pain, there’s no tangible proof.

      This can make the sufferer feel guilt and the need to validate being off work by staying in bed or not going out. But this is often the last thing they should do; in many cases, it’s actually better for an employee to remain at work.

      Minor adjustments

      To help the employee to remain at work, stay mobile and recover as soon as possible, some short-term adjustments may need to be made. Perhaps they’ll need to avoid certain manual tasks until the pain gets better. Or they could be given the opportunity to leave their desk and regularly take a short walk throughout the day.

      Some muscle, bone and joint injuries may require time off work

      There are some musculoskeletal conditions and jobs that may make it impossible for a person to stay at work after injury. For instance, a long-distance lorry driver with a back problem may not be able to stay seated for the length of a journey.

      When a person can’t return for work, you can turn to an occupational health specialist for advice. And, if someone has been off for more than four weeks, the Government’s recently launched Fit for Work service can support them in getting back to work.

      A recurring problem?

      When the same injury keeps coming back, time and time again, it can be a real burden – both on the employee and the employer. But, depending on the job and the specific injury, measures can be made to minimise the chance of this happening.

      Firstly, it’s important to identify any risks in the workplace. Is the employee’s chair uncomfortable? Is the employee lifting items that are too heavy? Are they spending too long on a repetitive, physically intensive task without a break?

      The next step is to manage that risk. Could a chair be provided that’s comfortable and encourages good posture? Could a machine do the lifting instead? Could repetitive, labour-heavy work be shared with other team members?

      Almost always, it’s recommended to take breaks often enough to allow for sufficient recovery. And where possible, to alternate tasks and change posture regularly. This will help the employee stay mobile and reduce the risk of fatigue.

      Identifying problems early

      For anyone susceptible to muscle, bone or joint injuries, it’s important to learn how to identify early warning signs. The problem can then often be nipped in the bud or mitigated through self-management.

      Which may mean less pain, discomfort and stress for the employee; and better productivity and a more coherent workforce for the employer.

      For more information on musculoskeletal conditions, please visit our Working Body page. Alternatively, to find out more about our healthcare plans please visit our small to medium business health insurance pages.