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For many employers, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) really are a pain in the neck

According to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE, 2015), more than 9.5 million working days are lost every year as a result of these disorders, which can affect muscles, joints, ligaments and tendons in any part of the body and with symptoms and suffering ranging from moderate to severe. And alongside the impact that MSDs can have on employee absence, its cost in terms of presenteeism is also high. Even though this cost is hard to measure, it’s not hard to imagine the lack of focus and productivity of an employee who is struggling to manage the pain caused by an MSD while at work.

Research recently undertaken by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development in partnership with Simplyhealth (November 2016) emphasises the impact of MSDs on employees and the workplace. Of the employers surveyed here, 44% included MSDs in their top five most common causes of short-term absence with the same number (44%) putting them in their top five causes of long-term absence.

Whilst MSDs are not necessarily caused in the workplace, they can potentially have a massive impact on employees and organisations. MSDs can affect any of us and they don’t discriminate based on age or the type of work that’s being undertaken. Whether employees are manual workers, predominantly office-based or spend a lot of time driving for work, they are all at risk of suffering the physical and mental pain associated with MSDs. It’s important, therefore, that all employees are given the same support to minimise the chances of them occurring, as well as offering information and advice to help them manage the symptoms of MSDs when they do occur.

Of course, employers have a legal duty of care to prevent MSDs occurring in the workplace and therefore risk assessments need to be regularly conducted and appropriate training and guidance offered to employees and managers to ensure that this duty of care is fulfilled. But managing MSDs in the workplace is about more than a legal duty, it’s about employers engaging with their people and promoting health and wellbeing in the workplace.

As with the majority of health and wellbeing initiatives, support needs to come from the top down in order that health and wellbeing initiatives are embraced by the wider organisation for the long-term. As part of a wider health and wellbeing strategy, conversations about good physical health should be encouraged, with managers feeling confident to offer advice and guidance about, for example, seating and posture, as well as promoting ‘bike to work’ schemes where these are available.

Managers should also be confident to encourage employees to take regular breaks and require people to do so if they don’t at first recognise the need to look after themselves in this way. And if employees undertake manual work, they need to be encouraged to make time to stretch and use the correct techniques for manual handling, for their own benefit and for that of the business.

In considering ways to minimise the occurrence or impact of MSDs, it’s tempting to think that the latest technology will provide an instant cure. But although there are innovations – whether they’re standing desks or ergonomic chairs – that can help to prevent or minimise the symptoms of MSDs, it is equally important for employers to encourage employees to lessen the risk and adopt positive behaviour when it comes to MSDs.

Employees should be encouraged to look after themselves and make positive choices when it comes to preventing musculoskeletal issues. Simple changes, such as encouraging stand up meetings – always guaranteed to get participants to stay focused – and taking meetings outside and walking while you’re talking, are something to consider for your organisation, as are good sitting habits and adopting good posture while working at your desk.

Providing support to employees facing muscle and joint issues, and offering them access to benefits that will help them is also something many companies take very seriously. And, clearly, ensuring that individuals are treated in a way they helps them return to better physical health, and to work, is the most positive outcome for all.

But not all private medical insurance offers the same level of cover and when it comes to MSDs they can quite literally be a pain in the neck to navigate! Whether it’s the types of injuries and treatment covered, the length of time that cover continues and exclusions to treatments covered, they are all subject to different variations.

For example, while provider PHC offers a wide ranging ‘Working Body’ programme which provides policy members with direct and speedy access to qualified physiotherapists without the need to see a GP first, other insurers will may require a referral before any treatment can take place, significantly slowing the recovery process for employees.

Ensuring that you have the level of cover you need and getting to the root of what is unique and different to each insurer requires expert knowledge and guidance. Contact your IHC consultant to find out how to provide the best level of support for your employees.

Chris Trevorah
0207 427 0656

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