"It's time to get a grip on MSDs"

24 May 2018

In 2016-17, 8.9 million working days were lost to work-related musculoskeletal disorders in the UK alone. But are employers and employees getting a grip on it? At IOSH 2018 Katharine Metters, a senior consultant at Posturite, will argue that most aren’t

Picture the scene. You are on a bus or train looking around and the majority of people are heads down on their laptops, tablets or phones.

Seem familiar?

How aware are these people of the damage they are potentially doing to themselves? Do they know they may be causing themselves years of suffering with a chronic condition later in life? Even if they did, would they change?

People suffer pain and then we as a society pay thousands of pounds for treatment to deal with neck, back and other musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), but they won’t put their technology down or make simple adjustments – even if they are told this is the root cause of their condition.

Maybe they think that therapy can undo any damage done. In the short-term it may. But if they keep on sitting there, looking down, often gripping their device, they may well be on their way to further pain and a chronic condition when they’re older. Essentially, most of us  don’t focus on these issues until it hurts and once it stops hurting we go back to what we did before.

I particularly worry about the younger generations. They may know the risks but they don’t seem to worry about them, maybe as the effects won’t manifest themselves until many years later and the draw of using the device is greater than their long-term health.

MSDs are a worldwide occupational health issue. When you consider that 8.9 million working days were lost in 2016-17 in the UK alone, it is a major burden on employers and the economy.

It is great then that MSDs are a major focus of IOSH’s international conference in September, and I’m delighted to be able to take part in this.

Many companies do understand the importance of managing the risks of MSDs. But how effectively are we conveying  the messages to the employee and ensuring the messages and methods are keeping up with the change in work practices?

We need to establish workplace cultures where employees are not only made aware of the risks but encouraged – I would go so far as expected – to take action now, not when it is too late.

All too often is seems we have cultures that look negatively on people who do the right things like taking the time to set up their work suitably and regularly stretching or moving during the day. And how do we react to people who take a regular lunch break?

Employees need to be empowered. Legislation around MSDs, which has been around for many decades in the UK now, can only get us so far. The world of work has changed, and will continue to do so, so we need to be to adapt.

New tools, including wearables, are available to provide objective feedback that can be used to help us all to be more aware and make better decisions, and these will be highlighted at the conference.

While MSDs and their effects are physical in their nature, we cannot ignore their links to mental health, which is such an important issue for us today.

We know that exercise and social engagement are often key in the treatment of both MSDs and the promotion of good mental health, yet if suffering from either can prevent the things that will help. With this in mind, we should look at people as a whole and not just focus on specific issues.

People are generally living longer but our healthy lifespan is not increasing and we need to tackle this. We all want to be independent, happy and comfortable in our later years and so protecting our bodies and reducing MSDs now is so important.

Now is the time to get a grip on this. We have to work together – employers and employees – and create a culture where people habitually looking after themselves is the norm.

Most of us can make a start with one simple, small change – stop looking down at those portable devices.

Hear from Katharine Metters at IOSH 2018, at the ICC in Birmingham, UK, from 17-18 September. Book your place now and take advantage of our early bird discount and save up to £150.

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