Understanding the Health and Safety Managers struggle to promote a safety-conscious culture within the organisation in order to effectively manage musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace, we outline the various processes and documents that are encouraged to when reviewing organisational manual handling systems.
Understanding the challenges faced when a faulty system disrupts the functionality of the individual and organisational become detrimental to business performance. When faced with the option of improving and adapting new systems, decision makers are better placed to ask themselves whether they can afford workplace injuries or ill healths and what actions they should take to prevent them. However, much of the problem could be prevented or reduced by following existing health and safety regulations and guidance on good practice.
INTRODUCTION: Understanding Musculoskeletal Disorders.
According to the European Agency of Health and Safety at Work , Musculoskeletal disorders are injuries and disorders that affect the human body’s movement or musculoskeletal system (i.e. muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, discs, blood vessels.) They encompass Back Pains and Injuries or Repetitive Strain Injuries.
Affecting approximately 9.6 million adults and 12’000 children in the UK, they are often normalised, however, tackling MSDs helps maintain the employees quality of life reduces the chances of disabilities and work absenteeism (Graham Stringer (2011), Hansard (1342).
An organisation’s hesitance to implement protective measures in regards to preventing workplace accidents is detrimental to business success. Throughout Britain, work-related ailments result in ove 8.9 million working days lost due to Musculoskeletal disorders, costing employers billions through affecting workers’ performance. However, many organisations fail to successfully analyse the safety of their workforce systems, recognise potential issues and take preventive action.
Analysis and preventive action against MSDs is often difficult as there is no primary cause. Unfortunately, they do not occur instantaneously but rather occur over an extended period of time as a result of an incompetent safety management system. Instead, various factors, both physical and psychological factors contribute. These causes may contain, but are not limited to:
- Manual handling that may include bending and twisting.
- Repetitive or forceful movements.
- Awkward and static postures.
- Poor working environments (vibrations, poor lighting or cold).
- Fast-paced work.
- Prolonged sitting or standing.
- High demand for work.
- Decreased job satisfaction
Section 1: Injury Management.
According to Health Response UK, figures show that an estimated 1.2 million people in Britain suffer work from related musculoskeletal disorder accounting for the most significant cause of absenteeism at work. Hence, developing a workforce system centred around the maintenance of an employee’s return to employment before an injury, disability or illness can effectively decrease symptoms from furthering. Ideally, effective injury management should minimise work disruptions, reduce costs and be beneficial to employees physically, psychologically and financially.
Organisations may consider implementing injury management policies, as a way to manage accidents within the workplace. A comprehensive and concise management policy must determine the process in which retention, rehabilitation and work employment will operate in the occurrence of an injury.
When constructing an injury management process, it is essential to consider the following:
Early intervention: It is vital that the organisation is equipped to identify and tackle issues at the first warning of distress. In many cases, prompt responses can prevent the symptoms from proceeding and ultimately aid in the employee’s recovery by analysing the cause and effect. With early intervention, it easier to enable the employee to work or return to work immediately, under better circumstances without further risk.
Documenting Absenteeism: Considering that one-third of the long-term sickness absenteeism in the UK is attributed to MSDs, it is negligible that it is a critical issue that affects business performance and legal costs in the long run. Taking this into account, the health and safety management system should ensure that adequate measures are taken into account to record and analyse information of sickness absenteeism and alert the appropriate people of these instances to enable early communication and intercession.
Seeking Professional Advice: Though most health and safety managers become very familiar with injury management procedures, it may often feel tedious seeking help for all incidents. However, it is essential to consider the costs broader implications and false diagnosis can result in. Instead, providing the employee with immediate medical support and ensures that appropriate procedures are taken in order to manage injuries effectively. This entails seeking professional consultation from their general practitioners (GP), a physiotherapist or other appropriate medical professional to conclusively determine the most appropriate course of action for safe recovery.
Consistent Communication: In the case of a work injury as a result of an MSD, a system supporting consistent and effective communication with the injured employee should be in place. This provides encouragement and motivation as you plan for their return to work. In some cases, interviews may be set in place to consult and include them in organising their return.
Workplace Adjustments: It is important to realise that the next step of action after a workplace injury must always be followed by the risk assessment and review of an accident investigation report. Workplace adjustments must be put in place to prevent similar re-occurrences and improve the environment, stopping further progression in the symptoms. However, as mentioned above, medical consultation from a professional is required during this procedure.
Section 2: Determining The Cost Of MSD
The management’s capability to deduce relevant and practical solutions in regards to the occurence of work-related musculoskeletal disorders is directly pertinent to their perceived impact and scale of costs (or even potential costs) on an organisational level.
According to a survey undertaken by the HSE (1996) it was estimated that musculoskeletal disorders within the organisation typically cost (encompassing both direct and indirect costs) employers between £590 million and £624 million annually. The expenses comprise of more than the simplicity of medical bills, compensation and time taken off work. Instead, they stretch and are not limited to the expenditure on administration and staff recruitment, damage to equipment, goods and materials, and the implications of insurance industry administrative costs for insurance premiums.
Taking this into consideration, the HSE prioritises the prevention and resolution of MSD’s within the workplace, focusing on the prevention of back pain and upper limb disorders.
Section 2.1: The Impact on Organisational Performance.
Customer’s experience – An organisation’s success is determined by the level of customer satisfaction and experience. Unfortunately, when injured employees are a result of unsafe conditions, an organisation’s ability to adequately fulfil customer demands becomes difficult. Satisfying customer expectations becomes unrealistic as they cannot be expected to do without or wait for their orders.
Ideal Clients- Certain clients influence your profits more than others, these are called ideal clients. These clients invest in the company more than the service itself, taking into consideration the mission, values and ethics of the business. With an inaccurate safety management system, these clients might be harder to attract because of the misinterpretation of ethics.
Productivity – It’s seemingly obvious that the direct impact of most incidents within the organisation is increased absenteeism. Within absenteeism, growing costs emerge such as paid leave, medical expenses and decreased productivity, effectively reducing the incurred profits earned by the organisation. By taking into consideration that employee wages are constituted as investments, it is essential to understand that by inputting permanent safety management tasks allows employees to work the same amount of hours and lessen the potential loss of revenue.
Company Reputation- A company’s reputation determines the level of safety and security that the outside world assumes concerning the organisation. According to research undertaken by the HSE, an estimated 43’000 cases arise each year from employees falling from a height. With inaccurate data and derived trends, it becomes increasingly difficult to resolve safety risks and hazards, ultimately increasing the detriment of the brand’s reputation. Hence, though it is realistically unachievable, there must be an internalised culture to make every customer and employee a raving fan.
Higher Turnover – An organisation is composed of three core structures, the people, the task and the technology. Hence, it is essential to understand that when employees are valued and taken care of, it builds a foundation of loyalty and motivation in such a way that the succession of an employee’s needs is directly associated with the completion of organisational goals. In practical terms, promoting a safety-conscious workplace culture decrease absenteeism, attracting and sustaining industry top talent.
Insurance premiums- The organisation’s inability to protect employees and control associated compensation costs by preventing work-related musculoskeletal injuries can cost the business tens of thousands, in medical bills, overtime pay, lost revenue or time. Without effectively putting protective measures in place, the odds of increased insurance premiums are near to inevitable. Ordinarily, insurance rates are calculated by multiplying the workers’ compensation premiums with a consonant based in the injury losses incurred over three years. Hence, when this consonant continues to augment, MSDs become increasingly costly,
Section 3: Manual Handling Risk Assessment
Assessing the potential risks of an organisations manual handling system becomes crucial to preventing musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace. Additionally, it allows the policy to be revised with relevancy and accuracy for improvements and emphasis.
The collection of technical information and identification of risk factors allows management to identify the potential improvements that the organisation could benefit from accurately. The procedure in which the task is carried out must be documented accurately, dissecting it to stages and summarising the information. Furthermore, occasional review systems can be put in place to reevaluate the efficiency of the improvements,
When accumulating information, it is essential to consider the type of information that is valuable and required in order to evaluate the system accurately. Ideally, it is necessary to gain a vivid understanding of the reasoning behind the process and to ensure the appropriate supervision is available during the process. This information may include:
- The physical measurements and weight of the load.
- Common postures during the manual handling,
- The operational tasks and space available.
- The duration of the work.
- Quantified handling activities to be carried out.
Following the collection of critical information, it is essential to evaluate the information and consider whether they could be a risk factor to the system. Recognising the risks associated with the task is critical. Additionally, each assumed risk factor must be justified by the relevant information and statistics. Common risks may include:
- Heavy loads,
- Repetitive force and movement,
- Sudden force,
- Unstable posture,
- Obtaining the load from a strenuous height.
During staff consultation, it is crucial that a review system is set in place to ensure the information is correctly evaluated and understood. An objective review will help ensure that the suitable improvements are put in place that the staff will directly benefit from by identifying those that should be avoided and incorporated to achieve success. Topics such as the following must be considered during the meeting.
- The effect of adopting mechanical aids – for all or part of the task;
- Optimising the space of the work area or materials;
- Providing sufficient, safe manual handling training technique;
- Constructing and effectively communicating the secure system of the work plan to the staff.
Following the adoption of an improved manual handling system, it is essential that a continuous review system is put in place to ensure that the recommended improvements are actively efficient and effective, by starting the risk assessment process again.
Section 4: Preventive Action
Taking into consideration the augmenting costs of musculoskeletal disorders within the workplace, it is increasingly important to consider preventive actions to ultimately decrease the symptoms and overall chances of such instances occurring within the workplace. Unfortunately, when deciding the solutions that are worthy of implicating, it also important to recognise the numerous possible responses, hence seeking expert advice is essential for insight on severe and unusual incidents that are likely to occur.
When seeking to improve the current manual handling system and ensuring that preventive actions are being actively practised, continuous risk assessments and employee involvement must be carried out throughout the process. Additionally, it can be beneficial to consider the following and potential changes that can be made accordingly:
Workplace Layout: The process in which the current workplace is laid out could be a contributing factor to past incidents. Investigating ways in which the environment can be improved to promote healthy working postures aid in decreasing symptoms and ensuring overall safety.
Equipment: Ideally, the equipment and tools that are used in carrying out tasks must be designed ergonomically and suit the functions to ensure increased productivity and maximise safety. In situations such as these, managers may consider the practicality of the equipment and various factors that may exert stress and pressure such as the weight of the tool, the efficiency and length of the handle and lastly the maximum grip diameter.
Workers: The effects of developing a workplace culture that encourages the awareness of these risks, while providing relevant training can bring a difference to the way protective measures are incorporated and increase employee involvement.
Management: Ultimately, management should aim to decrease the most significant cause of musculoskeletal disorder by reducing the occurrence of repetitive and prolonged tasks in poor postures. This can be done by designing a roster in which such duties are rotated and resting periods are included. Additionally, ensuring that a relevant MSD policy is documented and effectively communicated to the employees.
Section 5: What Kind of Equipment Prevents Musculoskeletal Disorders?
The suitability of equipment is often requisite to the industry the organisation is a part of. Taking the healthcare industry into consideration, apparatus often aims at maintaining the safety of patient handling. Hence, motorised patient cars are implemented to reduce strain and awkward postures when moving the patient from one area to the other. This same concept can be incorporated in various other organisations that may be in manufacturing or material handling when transporting supplies within the warehouse.
Before proceeding with the purchase of new equipment, it is essential to consider which material is most relevant to the organisational pain points. Purchase specifications can be documented outlining the proper health and safety legislation, codes, guidance and appropriate standards.
Ideally, purchases must:
- Be environmentally friendly,
- Be durable and non-disposable.
- Reduce strain, pressure and awkward postures.
- Undergo a hazard assessment.
- Include suitable emergency stops and safety devices.
- Meet HSE electrical standards.
Awareness is crucial when preventing the recurring incidents within surrounding organisations as well as your own. The effects of presentation expenses are minuscule in comparison to the lifelong impact that both the employee and employer suffer.
At Unisaas, we offer a variety of products that are ergonomically designed to reduce the push, pull, and lift strain of these kinds of tasks. If a customer requires something uniquely designed to accommodate their use, we also build custom equipment to the customer’s specification.
Our customers are site Managers working in industries ranging from aerospace through to waste management. As part of their role managers are always looking for ways to improve Health, Safety and efficiency in the workplace and environment – our solutions introduce new and innovative ways to effectively protect your people and your environment.
We’re a specialist provider of bespoke Materials Handling equipment, helping manufacturing companies to protect their people and their environment. We do this by assessing your requirements and providing the right equipment.
Find out more at; www.unisaas.co.uk
Contact us: 020 3805 1080
- Health and Safety figures show that an estimated 1.2 million people in Britain suffer work-related musculoskeletal disorder. 60% of all work-related illnesses are the result of back, neck or limb problems. Back pain is by far the most common and accounts for 119 million lost days at work.
- Management of musculoskeletal injury is a crucial issue for every employer, from the implementation of relevant Health & Safety legislation to managing related sickness absence (real or unjustified) and injury claims.
- 7.8 million people live with chronic pain. 49% of those diagnosed with chronic pain have been forced to take time off from work. In 1998, back pain alone cost the economy an estimated £12 billion. (Source: British Pain Society pain Survey 2005 & Pain 2000).
- Weekly, 3000 individuals are forced to give up work due to a prolonged illness, disability or injury. 25,000 are restricted to live on benefits every year through workplace injury. The financial and social implications are enormous within society.
- Trade Union Congress (TUC) is advising governing and professional bodied that employers should be legally bound to provide rehabilitation for employees.