The Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) has published a musculoskeletal health toolkit for universities and further education institutions to help young people dealing with musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) into work.
The toolkit, The Musculoskeletal (MSK) Health Toolkit for employers and further education institutions, looks at the extent of and impact of chronic MSDs among young people, the role of employers in supporting young people with these conditions, common adjustments that can be made, and young people’s stories themselves about living with chronic MSDs.
The toolkit highlights that, of the estimated 20 million people in the UK living with MSDs, 2.8 million are under the age of 35 and around 400,000 have conditions that start before the age of 16.
It makes clear that, if an employee or student has a chronic MSD, awareness – at least at the management level – is very important.
“Information regarding the condition and how the young person should be supported can be obtained directly from the person or from occupational health,” it points out.
Signposting to support is also critical. “Many young people with MSK conditions are not aware of who to turn to for support, particularly in the workplace. This can be overwhelming.
“Clear and early signposting to occupational health, HR, in-house disability support networks, specialist external charities or independent advice organisations can prove invaluable and reassuring,” it advises.
Physical adaptations, naturally, are also important. As the guidance states: “Where you have in-house occupational health, ensure that health and safety have liaised with the young person and advised the young person and the employer on suitable adaptations, should they be required.
“Many young people will not have had to consider this as school and parents/paediatric services will have led previously. Accept that the need for physical adaptation may change over time,” it adds.
The toolkit also highlights anonymised case of studies of a number of young people and their experience. Again, the important role of OH is emphasised, as one young person said: “I told my employers I could only work part-time because of my hospital appointments and that I couldn’t work for long periods of time.
“I got referred to occupational health, who then helped my employer understand my conditions more and how they could help. For example, after that, I got extended breaktimes. I found the shift pattern very physically demanding with my arthritis.
“At the end of a long shift, I struggled with pain and fatigue. I also struggled with handwriting notes. I decided I needed to seek support and ended up speaking to my manager and getting a referral to occupational health.
“They were able to put in adjustments for me, such as working more frequent, shorter shifts instead of longer ones. I could split my break up so instead of having one full-hour break, I had two half-hour breaks throughout my 12.5-hour shift. I was able to work some of my shifts in less physically demanding areas.
“They showed faith in me, and I repaid them with hard work. I was able to survive and then thrive in employment.”