The costs of work related musculoskeletal disorders
Ergonomics consultant and experienced physiotherapist, Emma Crumpton, provides the bigger picture on display screen equipment (DSE) workstation assessments, explaining the value of following a biopsychosocial approach.
Work related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are a huge societal burden. They accounted for 34% of all days lost due to work related illness in 2015/16 in Great Britain. At System Concepts we see the reality of this every day as we carry out workstation assessments and assess poor worksite design. The often unmeasured costs to employers include lost productivity and poor quality of work, from employees who may be fatigued, frustrated and in pain.
Why musculoskeletal disorders occur
Work related disorders develop in occupational settings due to work patterns that include:
- Fixed or constrained body positions
- Continual repetition of movements
- Force concentrated on small parts of the body, such as the hand or wrist
- A pace of work that does not allow sufficient recovery between movements.
Prevention of MSDs in the workplace
Workstation adjustments assessments are a routine first line strategy in managing risk from DSE use, and helping to prevent musculo-skeletal disorders. However, performed in isolation, they are only a small part of what is required to be effective.
These assessments are routinely undertaken, not least because HSEHealth and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992, amended 2002, require a suitable and sufficient analysis and risk assessment to reduce the risk to employees. The regulations specify that the workstation layout should meet minimum standards, training should be provided, eye tests made available and the work pattern considered.
This guidance is just one in a range of health and safety requirements: HSE also provides comprehensive guidance on the management of health and safety. It advocates a balance between the systems and behavioural aspects of management, and that health and safety should be an integral part of good management generally – not a stand-alone system.
We explain here how a biopsychosocial approach to work station assessments can underpin an ergonomic strategy to ensure that MSD risks are reduced in the workplace. Taken as part of an overall approach to the health, safety and wellbeing of employees, this supports improved productivity and performance.
The solution: taking a biopsychosocial approach to ergonomics
At System Concepts we advocate an ergonomic approach to ensuring that workplaces are safe and productive. Ergonomics is the science of designing the workplace and work practices with consideration for the capabilities and limitations of the worker.
It’s important too, to consider the ‘bigger picture’, which is why we take a biopsychosocial approach.
A biopsychosocial approach means being aware of the many factors that affect a single worker at a single desk within an organisation. As unique individuals we are affected differently by each biological, (eg. genetic predisposition), psychological (eg. stress and lifestyle) and social (eg. culture and relationship) happening.
A biopsychosocial approach encompasses everything from individual workstation assessments and risk management, to wider workplace design, job design, health and safety planning, accessibility, absence management, occupational health and other specialist services.
The essential thing is to understand the connection between these different service requirements and to integrate the approach so that a common thread runs throughout. In this way it should be possible for healthy and productive work practices to become part of organisational norms and values.
A series of related articles will be published periodically here on our website. These will show simple ways to make a difference, exploring some of the more common and universal risk factors that our ergonomists see on a day to day basis. For instance; prolonged sitting, lack of adequate breaks, stress etc. By making simple, positive changes, and ensuring that they are embedded into work practices and company culture, a healthier and more productive work force should evolve.
How we can help
Our ergonomics specialists start by meeting with your senior management to gain an in-depth understanding of your organisation’s working practices, infrastructure and approach to employee wellbeing. We will assist you in structuring a plan based on our findings, including identifying areas needing further analysis.
Our consultants can also assist you in implementing the plan, including engaging directly with individual employees at their desks and conducting professional workstation assessments. We will use the biopsychosocial approach outlined above to inform our recommendations, and ensure effective communication with all relevant stakeholders. Our service encompasses regular review meetings and formal evaluation of our effectiveness.