Management influences back pain at work

How well a worker is managed and even the size of their team can affect whether they are likely to suffer from a bad back or other musculoskeletal conditions, according to research on the public sector.


The study of staff in local authorities by PricewaterhouseCooper has also concluded that there is often no significant difference in the diet and exercise habits of workers with low or high levels of absence.


And the amount of time taken off work for hospital visits can often be linked to a worker’s sense of belonging in their community and satisfaction with home and lifestyle.


The survey of workers at four local authorities found that, of those who had had no absence in the year, 61% undertook a reasonable level of activity (30 minutes) three or more times a week.


But a similar number (64%) of those who had more than seven days of absence in the year undertook the same level of activity.


Of those who did not take any time off for hospital appointments, just 5.5% said they did not fit with their local community, while 6% were not happy with their home and lifestyle.


These percentages more than doubled for those with 100 or more hospital days, to 14.3% and 14% respectively, the study found.


People with more days of absence because of digestive disorders were less likely to be able to see a doctor within 48 hours and were more likely to have sleeping difficulties.


When it came to musculo-skeletal-related absences, back pain and repetitive strain injuries, people with higher levels of absence tended to work in larger teams and have poorer feedback from their manager.


There was apparently no relationship between musculoskeletal-related absences and whether people had received training in lifting, carrying and moving.


The average team size of those with no absence because of a reported musculoskeletal disorder was 14, against 53 for those with three or more occurrences.


Some 70% of those with no absence were satisfied their manager gave them regular constructive feedback, falling to just a third for those with three or more musculo-skeletal-related absences.


Mental health-related absences, which were responsible for the most days lost to absence across the councils, were apparently unrelated to work intensity, experiences of threatening or intimidating behaviour at work or the quality of people’s relationship with their manager.

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