Musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace accounted for 35% of days lost in 2016/17 (HSE); the second highest after mental health. Whether staff are taking time off, or just distracted by pain while sitting at their desk, musculoskeletal issues have a huge impact on staff health and company productivity. The most common cause of issues is manual handling, but a large number of issues are caused from sitting in poor positions and/or just sitting for long periods of time. So, what can we do to improve the physical health of our staff?
Improving Sitting Position
Sitting in poor positions leads to poor loading of the joints, particularly in the spine. This can cause postural adaptations, as muscles change length and tone in response to their new unnatural position. Although poor posture doesn’t always lead to pain, it can predispose people to injuries when playing sports or going to the gym. If people do start suffering from posture-related pain, it is not always simple to resolve and so prevention is better than cure.
It is vital that employees who spend any significant amount of time deskbound are given regular DSE assessments and prompts. It is crucial to ensure that staff are provided with the correct equipment and that they know how it should be set up and arranged. We work with providers who perform in-person assessments and online assessments depending on companies’ needs. It is good practice to re-address these assessments regularly to prevent staff from falling back into bad habits.
Reducing Time Spent Sitting
Even if staff are sitting in “perfect posture” (which is extremely hard to do for any extended period), there are still several issues they may face. The body will still adapt to being in a flexed position, changing the length and function of the muscles around the hips. The core muscles that stabilise the trunk will often also reduce in function due to support from back rests. Both of these can again predispose the body to injuries, particularly lower back pain.
At Tailored Fit, we are huge advocates of stand/sit desks and they are becoming more commonplace in companies of all sizes. Studies have shown that alternating regularly between sitting and standing has the greatest benefit, as it is easier to maintain good posture in either position for shorter periods of time. It can be quite a large investment if you opt to replace all desks simultaneously. Some companies bring in a few as “hot-desks” so staff have the option to use them. Another option is providing breakout areas that have standing desks. This allows staff to spend some time away from their own desks to clear their heads whilst also improving their health.
Improving Movement Quality
Once we have reduced the negative impact of deskbound working, we need to help staff to maintain their physical health. There are several ways companies can do this, each of which comes with their own pros and cons. Combining two or more of these methods will increase the number of staff reached and increase programme efficacy.
Subsidised gym memberships are one of the most common methods - the upside is that this is a relatively straightforward and cost-effective way to provide staff with the tools to look after their health. One downside is the rather clichéd problem of people not actually going to the gym, or starting with good intentions but motivation eventually petering out.
In-house classes such as Yoga, Pilates and run clubs are another method. It reduces the barrier of having to leave the office which often stops people from attending the gym. Although be aware that not all staff will want to exercise with colleagues, which is why it is a good idea to provide this alongside gym memberships.
Ultimately education and communication are the glue which hold it all together. Running regular seminars, talks and workshops on physical health keeps the conversation going and shows the company holds staff health as a high priority. Frequent communication regarding health initiatives is also key to reminding staff to take advantage of the wellness programme on offer, along with its many benefits.