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Musculoskeletal health in the workplace

What is Musculoskeletal (MSK) Health?

Put simply, musculoskeletal health is the working of joints and muscles, and the ability to perform the physical tasks of daily living comfortably.

Having good musculoskeletal health is vital for a full working life. It helps with balance and co-ordination, mobility and dexterity, and contributes to strength and endurance. These are essential to nearly all forms of work.

There are a range of MSK conditions which can lead to poor musculoskeletal health, including:

  • Joint conditions (such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis)
  • Spinal disorders (such as neck pain, low back pain and sciatica)
  • Bone conditions (such as osteoporosis)
  • Musculoskeletal injuries (such as strains and sprains, which can be related to job role or sport)
  • Regional and widespread pain disorders (such as frozen shoulder and tennis elbow)
  • Genetic, congenital and developmental disorders (such as club foot)
  • Multisystem inflammatory diseases (such as systemic lupus erythematosus)

The Cost of Poor Musculoskeletal Health

With 1 in 8 of the working age population reported to have an MSK condition, then it is a major business concern:

  • Musculoskeletal problems (including back pain, neck pain and upper limb problems) is a leading cause of sickness absence in the UK, second only to minor illnesses (Office for National Statistics, 2016).
  • In 2016, MSK conditions resulted in a significant 30.8 million days being lost due to sickness absence (which accounts for 22.4% of the total days lost) (Office for National Statistics, 2016).
  • The prevalence of MSK in the workforce is likely to increase to 7 million by 2030, as a consequence of our ageing workforce, as older workers are at greater risk of MSK problems.
  • An estimated 9.5 million working days were lost due to work related MSK conditions in 2014/15. Although poor MSK health can affect all industries and business sectors, the industries that showed higher rates of MSK included: agriculture, construction, health and social care, and transportation and storage industries.

 MSK problems can represent a substantial cost to your business through:

  • Sick pay
  • Lost productivity
  • Loss of key skills and staff (which can disproportionately affect SMEs)
  • Legal costs and injury benefit

However, there is a significant opportunity for cost reduction, since:

  • MSK problems are manageable and can be prevented
  • Litigation can be avoided as preventing MSK problems is often a health and safety requirement

For more statistics on musculoskeletal conditions, please see the infographic below:

How Can Your Business Promote MSK Health?

All businesses should be thinking about how they can prevent and support MSK problems. Poor MSK health can affect all industries and business sectors (from construction through to banking). It can also affect all types of employees (from those who are deskbound to those who work in manufacturing).

Increasingly, responsible employers are taking a proactive approach by supporting employees to lead healthier lifestyles that will reduce the risk of MSK problems. This may be by supporting employees to stop smoking, providing healthier snacks, or encouraging staff to spend more time away from their desks. These are just some of the simple, inexpensive steps you can take towards creating a healthier workplace.

Take a look at the physical activity in the workplace page for ideas on how to support your employees to improve their physical activity levels, and take a look at the resources below for some useful toolkits and websites on MSK health.

Resources to Promote Musculoskeletal Health in the Workplace

Here are some guides, websites, campaigns and resources to help you to support Musculoskeletal Health in your workplace:

Business in the Community has partnered with Public Health England to produce this simple and informative step-by-step guide to support businesses to deal with back, neck, muscle and joint pain at work.  It contains all the information and resources you need to develop an evidence-based approach to musculoskeletal health that works for your business.

This website provides advice to prevent and manage MSK conditions, including tools to assess the risks of manual handling and repetitive tasks.  There is also advice on using display screen equipment (DSE) safely.

Support your employees to lead a healthier lifestyle. Find information on: healthy eating, getting more physically active, support to stop smoking, tips on drinking less alcohol, and ways of reducing stress. Why not encourage your employees to have a go at the ‘How are You?’ quiz.

This website includes lots of information on back pain, including some exercises for lower back pain and sciatica, and information on why we should all sit less.

This website contains information on the different types of arthritis, what causes it and advice on how to manage it.

The Health and Wellbeing Planner that is found on Staffordshire Connects is an excellent tool that your employees can use to find local (Staffordshire) and national advice, information and support. It covers a range of health and wellbeing related issues, such as alcohol, healthy eating, mental health, physical activity and stopping smoking.   

They can use the Health and Wellbeing Planner to help them make some positive, healthy changes to their lives, by identifying what they want to achieve, what they can do differently to achieve their goal, and understanding what advice and support will help them along the way.

Get in touch

Let us know what you’re doing in your workplace around musculoskeletal health by emailing Workplace Health 

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