Around 1.7 million working people in the UK are living with a work-related illness. So, wherever you work, it’s important that you and your team stay as safe and well as possible. Here we’ll look at the most common workplace health problems and how to prevent them, no matter where you’re based.
How common are work-related musculoskeletal problems?
After common illnesses such as colds and flu, musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions are the most common reason for sickness absence in the UK. And, around half a million people live with MSK conditions that are related to work. These include back pain and neck problems.
How can musculoskeletal problems be prevented?
Musculoskeletal (MSK) problems can cause you pain, limit the way you move and affect your strength. The good news is that there are things you can do to help prevent work-related MSK conditions – for you and your team members.
Where you can, try to make physical tasks less difficult. This might include moving objects on wheels or using lifting aids. You should also encourage each other to take breaks and move around throughout the working day.
Working from home
Are you and your team some of the many employees now working from home for at least some of the week? If so, it’s important to make sure that your team have everything they need to work safely such as a desk setup that encourages good posture. If this includes display screen equipment (DSE) you might also need to arrange a DSE assessment. You should give any relevant information about desk setup, including avoiding glare or reflection from lights and windows, which can cause people to sit awkwardly.
It’s important to know that you’re still responsible for the safety of your team at work, even if they’re working from home. This includes electrical safety and avoiding trips and falls. Make sure that any equipment is in good condition and is being used in the right way. A risk assessment can help you to identify any problems.
Working as a driver
Driving for work can cause back pain, and it’s more likely when driving over long distances or on rough ground. If your team regularly drive for work, make sure they can adjust their seats, wherever possible, and that they are driving in a comfortable position. Ergonomic vehicle assessments can also be carried out to support drivers with MSK vulnerabilities.
Talking to your team about health and safety
As a manager, you can help to prevent or reduce work-related health conditions and promote safe working by having open conversations with your team.
- Ask your team about any issues that they have noticed or if they have any suggestions about how their role could be made safer
- Look out for signs of back pain or other MSK problems in your team
- Encourage people to report any problems and let them know how they can do this
- Make sure that people know what to do in an emergency and how to report an accident or other safety incident
- Undertaking and reviewing risk assessments regularly and when necessary
Accessing Occupational Health (OH) is key to minimising absences and risks associated with MSK disorders.
- New starter health screening is an effective way of determining if employees need additional support and adjustments if they have predispositions to or a history of MSK conditions
- Businesses can use occupational health or wellbeing partners to raise awareness among employees through health education and promotion, training, campaigns and guidance for manual handling
Physiotherapy treatment services, including online, and guided exercise programmes can significantly reduce lost working time due to MSK disorders.
Supporting your team with MSK
If your employees have a muscle, bone or joint problem, our Direct Access service aims to provide them with the advice, support and treatment they need as quickly as possible. If MSK Direct Access is included within your health insurance or trust scheme, they’ll be able to seek advice from a physiotherapist usually without the need for a GP referral^.
Learn more today (PDF, 1.7MB)
^Direct Access telephone services are available as long as the symptoms are covered under the policy or health trust. If your employee’s cover excludes conditions they had before their cover started, we’ll ask them to provide evidence from their GP that their symptoms are not pre-existing for a period of up to two years after their cover started or up to five years in the case of mental health. For rolling moratorium underwritten policies or health trusts we will ask for evidence each time they claim for a condition not claimed for before. They should always call us first to check their eligibility.
Bupa has a range of health information to support you and your team, including:
- Health and safety statistics: Key figures for Great Britain (2020/21). The Health and Safety Executive. www.hse.gov.uk, accessed 3 February 2022
- Sickness absence in the UK labour market: 2020. Office for National Statistics. www.ons.gov.uk, published 3 March 2021
- Health and safety at work: Summary statistics for Great Britain 2021. The Health and Safety Executive. www.hse.gov.uk, published December 2021
- Health and wellbeing at work: 2021. Business in the Community. www.bitc.org.uk, published 2021
- Back pain. The Health and Safety Executive. www.hse.gov.uk, accessed 3 February 2022
- Musculoskeletal health in the workplace: a toolkit for employers. Business in the Community. www.bitc.org.uk, published March 2017
- Advice for workers with musculoskeletal disorders. The Health and Safety Executive. www.hse.gov.uk, accessed 3 February 2022
- Work using electrically powered equipment. The Health and Safety Executive. www.hse.gov.uk, accessed 3 February 2022