Ergonomics is key to reduction in musculoskeletal disorders

More than 6.9 working million days are lost to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in Great Britain alone, according to research by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

The findings, from the HSE’s Health and Safety at Work report, also show that nearly half a million workers are suffering from a work-related MSD, with the average person being absent from work for 14 days due to their condition.

The report highlights the need for employers to be looking carefully at the ergonomics of their workplace, according to Angela Yates, founder and owner of ergonomics consultancy, Ergonix. She believes that employers need to act on injury prevention, not repsonse.

She said: “It is often overlooked the fact that the set-up of a workstation can have such a big impact on an employees health and well-being. Poor ergonomic design – having equipment in the wrong position and using chairs that don’t provide sufficient support – can lead to unnatural postions and postures. That, along with little movement and stretching during the work day, can be a key factor in employees developing musculoskeletal disorders.

“Musculoskeletal disorders include back, neck, shoulder, wrist and arm pain. It can easily become a long-standing issue if the root of the problem is not dealt with and can greatly affect a person’s day to day life – including the ability to do their job proficiently.”

Presenteeism – going to work when unwell, either mentally or physically – can also cause productivity loss in the workplace. Employees may feel they can’t afford to take time off work whilst sick, or they don’t want it to be a reflection of their ability to do the job.

The most commonly affected area of the body for MSDs, according to the report, was the upper limbs or neck, with the back being another commonly diagnosed area, and working at a desk was determined as one of the key factors in the development of MSDs.

There are a number of general rules to follow to ensure a correctly set-up office workstation. The top of the computer screen should be at about eye level and the screen roughly an arm’s length away in order to improve posture and reduce strain on the muscles and joints.

Sitting back in a chair helps to reduce stress on the spine, and a backrest can be used to support the lower back. Feet should be flat to the floor and there should be space behind knees to ensure the chair is providing sufficient support.

Good ergonomics practice has been shown to improve overall employee health and well-being and reduce absenteeism which, in turn, increases productivity and morale among staff. As a result of this, businesses can expect a reduction in their overall costs.

Angela added: “If your employees work in a suitable and safe environment which is specific to their needs, the risk of injury or pain can be greatly reduced, leading to less chance of employees taking time off work due to ill health, as well as them being more efficient and productive in their role.

“Although office ergonomics requires investment from the employer, the implementation of it can actually reduce business costs. As well as those benefits already mentioned, it can also see a reduction in compensation or insurance claims and lower staff turnover rates, all of which can help to reduce outgoings.”

With many employers now promoting health and well-being strategies, creating a culture in the workplace where employees feel comfortable, safe and happy can ensure an employer gets the best out of its workforce. Implementing effective ergonomics can be a huge contributing factor to this, with the overall aim of reducing the number of workplace-related MSDs and working days lost as a result, as well as a fall in employee presenteeism.