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January 23, 2023

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Addressing MSK-related absence and costs in today’s workplace

Marc Holl, Head of Primary Care at Nuffield Health discusses musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions in the workplace and methods of support from employers.

Nuffield Health’s recent Healthier Nation Index revealed over a third of adults had taken time off work due to neck or back pain in the last year – with over two-thirds of remote workers also reporting aches and pains.

Marc Holl, Head of Primary Care at Nuffield Health

Research suggests 20 million people in the UK experience an MSD. With the risk so prominent, the nation could do without additional influences increasing or exacerbating cases and symptoms.

However, the past few years have made it difficult to avoid or manage MSK risks. The COVID-19 pandemic confined us to our homes, reducing opportunities for exercise and encouraging sedentary behaviours. The long-term physical impact of COVID-19 itself also led to chronic pain, making it increasingly difficult for individuals to maintain an active lifestyle.

So, it’s no surprise 72,000 individuals reported new or longstanding MSDs directly linked to, or made worse during, the pandemic.

Assessing and addressing the workplace

While employers cannot directly address every challenge facing their team, they must consider the reasonable adjustments they can make to the workplace to support wellbeing and avoid exacerbating MSDs.

It’s important to understand the workplace risk factors contributing to ill health. Firstly, considering the intrinsic link between mental and physical health, it’s clear work stresses – including long hours and unmanageable workloads – take their toll on MSK health.

Similarly, research reveals workplace bullying is also linked to an increase in MSK disorders – with the resulting stress, anxiety and low mood manifesting in back and neck pain. When we experience stress, our bodies tense and, over long periods, this constant strain increases our risk of injury.

There are also risks associated with unergonomic working conditions – whether at home or in the office – and those overworked in manual roles. Understanding these key risks allows businesses to better align their benefits and wellbeing offerings.

Womens health

Image courtesy of Khunatorn/Adobestock

Firstly, with research suggesting flexibility is the key to reducing work-related stress, businesses should offer reasonable adjustments to allow employees to complete their hours in a way that supports their wellbeing.

For example, flexible hours may reduce stress by allowing individuals to avoid busy commutes or complete the school run before work – as well as affording more opportunities to practice healthy habits such as running during sunlight hours or preparing nutritious meals for the week. These adjustments also help to nurture an empathetic and enjoyable workforce which, in turn, minimises instances of conflict and bullying and the resulting emotional distress.

Employers should also offer health assessments – either on-site or privately – to highlight the unique challenges facing individuals and work with physiotherapists to review the workplace and suggest ergonomic improvements (as well as advice for employees working remotely).

Alongside company-wide benefits like subsidised gym memberships and grocery vouchers, businesses can also look to address the specific challenges of the day.

Long Covid Rehabilitation Programmes generate targeted interventions, equipping individuals with the knowledge to understand and manage symptoms. This includes access to experts who can provide personalised advice on rehabilitation, coping mechanisms for fatigue, breathlessness, anxiety and low mood and tips for improving sleep and eating for recovery.

It’s not enough to simply implement these wellbeing strategies. Employers must communicate them regularly and clearly – including the first steps to accessing them and exactly what employees are entitled to – even considering hosting workplace service expert seminars covering the benefits of each offering.

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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Nigel Evelyn-dupree
Nigel Evelyn-dupree
1 year ago

Just how subtle is the difference between MSD’s and MSK’s !? Both have Musculoskeletal in them just the former has “disorder” as a euphemism for “injury” so, is one referring to an induced insidious fatigue related repetitive stress injury and the other more immediate sorry for myself “I wish I hadn’t done that” injury !? Or, is the difference environmental like, you know, one in the office the other on a construction site, factory or warehouse, retail where physical work takes place ? Or, is it just a question of which muscles, big one’s or little one’s that remain, sort… Read more »