MSK absences are a huge drain on employers. Of the 1.7 million British workers who suffered from work-related ill-health last year, a massive 28% of these new and long-standing cases were due to musculoskeletal or MSK disorders.
MSK disorders span a huge range of physical issues from neck issues and back pain, through to joint issues such as knee or shoulder problems caused by a range of underlying problems – the top six being:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Bone fractures
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
The problem for employers is that MSK conditions are often not just painful for individuals but can severely limit mobility, dexterity, and other functional limitations. These can impact a person’s ability to work effectively in many job roles – or, indeed, at all.
MSK absences are only one challenge
MSK conditions are a challenge both for absence, since many people will need to consult a GP for such issues either on a regular or one-off basis, or experience pain episodes that prevent them from attending work. They are also an issue in presenteeism, as the stoic British worker grits their teeth and turns up to work despite feeling under the weather. They are also a leading cause of work disability and can be a driver of both long-term sickness absence and early retirement as a result.
“Back, neck, muscle and joint conditions are one of the most common reasons why employees need time off work or are unable to fulfil their duties to the best of their abilities. Discomfort and pain can cause mental as well as physical distress. Often the condition becomes aggravated because an employee feels unable to discuss it openly with a line manager.”Society of Occupational Medicine
A cost and challenge for employers
Almost all people managers in the UK will have experienced an employee citing back pain as a reason for absence or underperformance. It is something that up to 60% of the adult population of the UK can expect to experience. It is far from trivial; lower back pain is the single leading cause of disability in 160 countries, according to the World Health Organisation.
MSK is a gender-neutral condition, affecting men and women alike. 38% of men have an MSK condition and 35% of women have an MSK condition.
The incidence of some types of MSK issues rise with age – and, of course, the British workforce is ageing. Already, more than half of the working population is over 50 within the SMEs that employ a majority of UK employees.
The problem can be exacerbated by other issues. 30% of working age people with MSK conditions also have depression – and those with both a mental health and physical MSK condition are less likely to be in work.
The ultimate impact on employers is significant, when you add up loss of productivity due to MSK and insurance impacts – given that MSK disorders represent a high proportion of injury compensation costs.
“The risk factors for poor MSK health are similar to those for heart disease, respiratory problems, diabetes and cancer. So, investment in general health and wellbeing will help to address other health issues in the workplace.” BITC
Taking action on MSK in the workplace
- Employers have many options to help prevent MSK injury and support employees to minimise its impacts on their ability to work. These include:
- Providing ergonomic equipment and assessing the ergonomics of existing workplaces
- Encouraging breaks to avoid people sitting, standing, or working at length in one position
- Supporting staff to reduce lifestyle risks through workplace healthy lifestyle initiatives
- Analysing tasks and roles to minimise or avoid repetitive motions and gestures
- Reducing risk to employee health in general with rigorous Health & Safety procedures
- Embracing employee health management more holistically within workforce strategies
- Connect and monitor absences and employee health for a true picture of MSK impacts*
Useful Links about MSK for employers
- BackCare Charity and their annual Back Care Awareness Week (October) https://backcare.org.uk/event/2022-back-care-awareness-week/
- The MSK at work Network – Society for Occupational Medicine https://www.som.org.uk/msk-work-network
- HSE’s Online digital MSD Online Assessment Tool – a good aid for employers who must perform risk assessments https://books.hse.gov.uk/MSD-Assessment-Tool/
- BITC Musculoskeletal health in the workplace https://www.bitc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/bitc-wellbeing-toolkit-musculoskeletal-mar2017.pdf
*Only the Empactis Employee Health Management System is designed to seamlessly connect absence and employee health management.
Able to adapt around the specific hierarchy of your organisation, Empactis can help managers react and respond appropriately to MSK absences or issues raised by employees. It makes it easier for employers to integrate MSK risk assessments and track work adjustments in relation to employee health and absence records. It also makes occupational health referrals more manageable and eases the burden on HR in reporting absence and health across the organisation. All aided by seamless integration with Office 365.