According to the Health and Safety Executive, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are amongst the most commonly reported work-related conditions in Britain, accounting for 9.5 million days of absence each year.
Even those working in offices are not exempt from MSDs – prolonged sitting can cause issues such as back and limb pain. But for those who work in manual jobs, such as construction or factory working, MSDs present an even bigger problem.
Some of the common causes of MSDs are manual handling (like lifting, pulling or pushing heavy objects), uncomfortable working positions and repetitive movements, all actions which are often associated with working in a manual job.
MSDs are mostly preventable, but if you work in a manual job, there are plenty of things you can do to try and reduce your risk of developing an MSD.
- Take proper breaks – repeating the same actions or working in the same position for too long a time can lead to MSDs. Take frequent breaks from sustained actions (every 20-30 minutes).
- Stretch – if you feel any stiff muscles after an activity at work, gently stretch them out.
- Warm up – it may feel a little strange, but if you know you’re about to begin a repetitive or prolonged activity, try to warm up and stretch before you start.
- Switch activities – whenever possible, try to alternate your activities frequently throughout the day.
- Encourage your employer to conduct a risk assessment – employers are required by law to identify and manage risks within a workplace. You can find out more about risk assessments on the Fit for Work website, and the Health and Safety Executive has lots of example risk assessments for different workplaces on their website. Your employer can also make use of the HSE’s manual handling assessment charts (MAC), which is designed to help the user identify and act on high-risk workplace activities in manual jobs.
- Report any pain early – if you do find that an activity at your job is causing you pain, make sure to report it to management as soon as you can, so that they can take appropriate action.
Absence due to MSDs lasts, on average, for 17 days. If you have been off work for longer than four weeks, you can ask your employer to refer you to Fit for Work. Your GP can refer you sooner than four weeks if they think you’re likely to be off sick for four weeks or more. For advice and support, call 0800 032 6235 to speak to a dedicated advisor, or visit fitforwork.org.
Employers can refer their staff members to Fit for Work by visiting fitforwork.org/employer and clicking on ‘refer an employee’. GPs can visit fitforwork.org/general-practitioner and click on ‘refer a patient’.
Those in Scotland can visit fitforworkscotland.scot or phone 0800 019 2211.