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Jamie Hailstone is a freelance journalist and author, who has also contributed to numerous national business titles including Utility Week, the Municipal Journal, Environment Journal and consumer titles such as Classic Rock.

February 7, 2019

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Back pain

Back pain at work costs third of workers at least one day off a year

A third of Brits have taken at least one day off due to neck pain or back pain at work in the past year, according to new research.

Back painThe research, from the British Chiropractic Association (BCA), also found British workers take an average of 12 days off a year with back pain.

According to the study, two fifths of workers (40%) who spend the majority of their time at work sitting do not feel that they are able to take regular breaks.

This is in spite of almost half (45%) of people who have experienced back or neck pain identifying sitting for long periods of time as a trigger for their condition.

Less than a quarter (23%) of respondents had been offered advice or tips by their employer on how to sit at their desk to prevent work-related back pain, and only a fifth had been offered a desk assessment, ergonomic chairs or laptop stands.

The BCA research follows new analysis of The Lancet research series on low back pain, which highlights that musculoskeletal pain causes almost half of work absences in the EU.

According to Professor Jan Hartvigsen, Department of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics at the University of Southern Denmark, the condition presents a significant cost to both businesses and economies, costing healthcare systems between 2% and 3% of the gross domestic product in most European countries, including the UK.

“Whilst it’s encouraging to hear that some companies are offering advice and information to employees to prevent work-related back and neck pain, there is clearly a long way to go,” said BCA President, Catherine Quinn.

“No-one should feel they need to be chained to their desk all day at the expense of their health, and it is an organisation’s responsibility to empower staff to look after themselves in the office. With so many workers missing work due to the condition, it is truly in employers’ interests to offer proactive help and advice to protect the health of their employees.

“There are many simple things workers can do to stay active during the nine to five. This could start with something as simple as sipping on a small glass of water and standing up to refill it each time its empty or taking the stairs. I also believe everyone should make the most of their lunch hour to get moving – a walk in a nearby park or a lunchtime gym class will make you feel refreshed for the afternoon while helping to counteract the effects of sitting in one position all day,” she added.

The BCA’s top tips for preventing back or neck pain at work:

Keep moving: If you are required to sit in one position for long periods of time as part of your job, at work or on a long drive for example, try to take breaks to move your joints and muscles at least every 30 minutes.

Get up, stand up!: Try finding times in your day where you can stand, such as conducting phone calls while standing up to help build additional, simple movement into your day.

Set it up right: Setting your workstation up in a comfortable position will help to prevent the onset of back pain throughout the day. Think about the height of your screen, how well your back is supported and the height of your knees so that you are seated in a comfortable position.

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Steven Nagle
Steven Nagle

Nobody likes the idea of staff having to have time off in pain, however, that said, so few companies actually do anything to combat it – particularly SMEs in low risk situations where their workstation and sloppiness in manual handling are the main contributors. Then again, I’ve never actually seen a company take DSE seriously, and manual handling is frequently treated as a joke. With that in mind, one day a year off with back pain is probably a very positive outcome.

Nigel Evelyn-Dupree
Nigel Evelyn-Dupree

An earlier SHP article suggested around 10% actually, maybe, payed attention to the predictably high risks of MSD’s in DSE operators from visual (58%) to physical main muscle group disorders (47% with MSK)) resulting from repetitive stress injuries. Even the HSL regardless of HSE RR 561 2007 continue putting back a review of the UK 93 Regs (now 2020) they themselves identified as “little or no benefit” in terms of reducing harm. Denial, omission and a blind-eye has also be turned to the WHO International Classification of Diseases 9th and now 10th revision defining and scaling eye-strain repetitive stress injuries… Read more »