A British researcher has received an award for an ergonomic approach to helping employees back to work after disabling musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). The approach harnesses psychosocial factors to manage a condition that causes significant pain to the world’s economies, employers and employees.
In 2006, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in the United States described work-related MSDs as one of the most prevalent and costly safety and health problems in the modern workplace. In Britain alone, MSDs cost the economy approximately £7.4 billion (US $11.1 billion) per year
The Bupa Foundation recently presented its 2008 Health at Work Award to Dr. Kim Burton at the Centre for Health and Social Care Research at the University of Huddersfield for a study MSDs of the upper limbs (ULDs). Britain’s Health and Safety Executive commissioned the Huddersfield researchers to look at ways ULDs could be managed to help reduce the resulting estimated 4.2 million working days lost in Britain every year.
Psychosocial factors have received increased attention in recent years as a potential “missing link” in MSDs that can’t be explained by physical factors alone. Psychosocial factors relate to aspects of employment such as workload and pace of work, work schedules, job content, interpersonal workplace relationships and the work-home interface.
The researchers recommended a ‘biopsychosocial’ approach, according to a news release about the award that was published in Personnel Today. The approach ranks psychosocial factors above biological considerations when addressing occupational MSDs. It involves the assessment of lifestyle factors — in and out of work — and the implementation of personalized changes to ensure a focus on ability rather than disability.
In a Bupa Foundation video clip about the award, Dr Burton emphasized that an early return to work is better for ULD sufferers than a prolonged absence. “We should then try to ‘normalise’ the experience and focus on recovery rather than what’s happened, what the worker can do rather than what they can’t,“ he said in the news release.
Dr. Burton noted that the approach will require a shift in culture that requires support from the workplace and healthcare. In essence, clinical treatment alone is not the answer, prevention is not the answer – the various players have to work together to achieve the best possible outcome.
Source: Personnel Today; Bupa Foundation video clip