Musculoskeletal injuries cause much sickness absence, so managers need to minimise them and their effects
As a manager, it’s important that you think about your team’s wellbeing.
One way you can make an enormous difference to sickness absence and ill health is by monitoring and trying to prevent muscle and joint problems.
These are said to account for 30-40% of sickness absence in the NHS, and, together with stress-related problems, are the biggest cause of ill health in NHS staff.
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and manual handling incidents can have a major effect on service delivery as well as lifelong effects on staff.
A 2009 study by the Work Foundation found MSDs accounted for nearly half of all absences from work in 25 European Union countries, and around 60% of permanent work incapacity, costing European economies up to €240bn per year.
It reported that early detection of and intervention in MSDs improved employees’ lives and performance, and reduced early retirements due to permanent disability and the burden on government health and disability budgets.
People with MSDs who continue to work and are supported to do so can experience health, social and psychological benefits that improve their productivity.
These findings echo many recommendations in NHS Employers’ Back Pack. Part of our Back in Work campaign, this provides NHS staff and employers with information to reduce MSDs and ensure a speedy return to work for people affected. Partnership for Occupational Safety and Health in Healthcare - part of the NHS Staff Council - is working on adding training and the need to have accredited manual handling trainers to the Back Pack.
Most important is to get the individual back to work. As long as it has been adjusted to reflect capability, work is the best medicine. It is better for staff, employers and patients.
Ten tips to manage musculoskeletal injury
- Early detection and intervention are key to a speedy resolution
- People with these injuries who keep working recover more quickly
- Manual handling training is essential
- All activities that place staff at risk should be subject to evidence-based risk assessment
- Work closely with the employee and jointly agree a fit for work plan
- Keep in regular contact to review the fit for work plan goals
- Manual handling is not just about lifting - it is also about moving objects, using equipment and fitness to work
- Partnership working between employers, staff and staff representatives is essential for a safe and supportive working environment
- Policies should consider fitness to work, rehabilitation and redeployment
Julian Topping is the programme lead for health, work and wellbeing at NHS Employers. He ran childcare facilities for more than 20 years, moving to NHS Employers when it was founded in 2005.