According to Health & Safety Executive (HSE) figures, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are still the most common occupational illness in the UK, affecting 1.1 million people a year and costing the taxpayer 5.7bn.
The HSE estimates that UK business loses around 4.9 million days to employee absence caused by back problems every year. Meanwhile, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s latest annual absence survey showed MSDs and back pain were by far the biggest cause of long-term absence among manual workers and a significant cause of absence among non-manual workers.
What’s more, while heavy manual work is becoming less prevalent, more and more of us are sitting at our desks – usually in the wrong position – and using keyboards for hours a day. So it is not surprising that repetitive-strain injuries are widespread.
If MSDs are to be reduced, a holistic, wide-ranging approach is needed. As ergonomist Dr Jason Devereux, of the University of Surrey, argues in his feature on effective measures against MSDs, workplace stress can exacerbate the problem, and may even cause it. MSDs are not just caused by repetitive action, or over-loading the system: exposure to pressure and poor management are potentially contributory factors.
And as Dr Brian Isbell, of the University of Westminster, points out in his opinion piece, the solutions are equally wide-ranging, and complementary therapies should not be ruled out.
In this special issue of OH Extra – the first of three to come out this autumn – we take a detailed look at the problems presented by MSDs, and at the ways in which the OH community is working to address them, highlighting recent legal case law and the views of experts about best practice.
Yet again, the message is clear. OH practitioners need to keep abreast of current developments and make sure they are offering staff the most appropriate support.
But if they are to help businesses reduce back pain and other MSDs, they also need the full support of managers and senior staff. This is clearly a complex issue, caused by a range of factors, and a multidisciplinary approach is essential.