|Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) can affect the body’s muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments and nerves (most commonly the back, neck, shoulders and upper limbs). Most work related MSDs develop over time and are caused either by the work itself or employees’ working environment. Health problems range from discomfort, minor aches and pains, to more serious medical conditions requiring time off work and medical treatment. In more chronic cases the resulting damage can be permanent disability and loss of employment.
Many problems can be prevented or greatly reduced by complying with Health and Safety Law and following guidance on good practice. MSDs are an increasingly worrying problem in the modern workplace: for the employee, they cause personal suffering and loss of income; for the employer, they reduce business efficiency and increase costs.
Employers are responsible for assessing workplace risks and implementing the prevention measures to eliminate or reduce them. Where employees use Display Screen Equipment (DSE) or a Visual Display Unit (VDU) they are at increased risk of MSDs.
What should HR professionals look out for? What are the signs that MSDs might be a problem in the workplace?
• How long do staff spend working with DSE or VDUs?
• If they spend prolonged periods how often do employees take breaks?
• Are employees sitting statically for long periods?
• How is equipment being used?
A good rule of thumb is that the top of a screen should be at eye level to avoid neck, back and eye strain. The screen should be positioned at about arm’s length from the face. Healthy use of display screen equipment can be dramatically improved with the use of adjustable supports: flat screen monitor arms, CPU holders and laptop stands can help by enabling the user to adjust their equipment to suit their height and to facilitate a comfortable seating position.
What HR professionals can do to reduce the risk of MSDs:
• Encourage frequent, short breaks (helps to avoid RSI but also improves concentration)
• Provide equipment that enables frequent changing of sitting / working position
• Inform staff of the dangers of MSDs and what they can do to decrease the risk
• An office chair should be easy to move to encourage constant movement
• Ask questions:
How comfortable is your workstation?
Can you think of anything that might improve your comfort at work?
Can you easily adjust your working position and equipment?
HR professionals can communicate important cultural messages to staff that enable such changes to take place. It’s important to strike a healthy balance between efficient use of time and enabling employees to feel that they should take regular breaks without fear of reprisal and negative responses from managers and supervisors.
With the ever increasing use of computer equipment in the workplace MSDs are becoming more prevalent, it is within the control of HR professionals to buck this trend by paying greater attention to employees’ working patterns and comfort levels.
About the Author:
James Hutchinson, Architectural & Design Consultant at Colebrook Bosson Saunders, will be speaking about “Applied http://www.colebrookbossonsaunders.com”, at the Musculoskeletal Disorders Conference, Wembley Stadium on 24th March 2009
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