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Move for better musculoskeletal health

Posted on May 14, 2024

In my crazy head, there are two things you should have to do before you can be called an ‘adult’ – work behind a bar; and carry a sheet of plywood on a windy day. Both teach you so much.

In a bar you can be exposed to ‘all of life’ through the people who walk in the door and these daily different interactions – fun, educational, inspiring and challenging – can only help on life’s journey.

A journey is what you are going to take if you carry a sheet of plywood when it’s blowing a gale. If you don’t understand how aeroplanes lift off the ground and stay up, then try it. But be warned if you do you are likely to injure your back if not every other part of you!

It’s a lesson in musculoskeletal (MSK) health which I began talking about in the previous blog. MSK is all about movement and also relates to manual handling.

The introduction to the government’s guidance on MSK reads: “…an important component of maintaining a person’s functional abilities throughout the life course. It is also fundamental to healthy ageing, which the World Health Organisation has characterised as “the process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables well-being in older age”.

“…People increasingly expect to lead independent, active and pain-free lives in their older years. For many people this includes remaining part of the workforce. For most this includes an active retirement, without the fear of pain and falls.”

MSK on the rise

All jobs can be affected by MSK and I have often written that the duty of an employer is not only to help deliver a person home safely at the end of a working day, but also their working life. I believe that the prevention of MSK is a relatively simple thing to undertake. Move.

Health and Safety and its regulations are all about trying to maintain an active life for as long as possible and the way to do that is not to damage our musculoskeletal system in work, that will make later life more difficult.

According to the work-related musculoskeletal disorders in Britain report 2022/23, published by the Health and Safety Executive, 473,000 workers suffer from MSK symptoms – an increase of 3,000 from the previous reporting period. MSK symptoms are often caused by work-related injuries such as incorrect manual handling, or not having equipment in the workplace personally adjusted.

With a recent increase in staff working from home, unsuitable home office set-up has also been a large contributor to the issue. There’s an interesting, published paper here.

Tip my hat

Consider the humble supermarket trolley collectors. The areas in which they work have been carefully designed according to Construction, Design and Management regulations, which has a requirement to look at the end use of what is being built.

The trolley collector and the public won’t notice this, but a health and safety professional does. It’s about putting in control measures that no one notices. So, the ground has to be flat, the types of grid have to be suitable for trolleys to roll over, the same with kerb lines. If not, then the trolley pusher’s body would be wrecked within a month of starting the job.

These are little design features that show there is thought behind the process and protect against MSK. When I see them I always say: “If I were wearing a hat I would tip it to whoever came up with that.”

This even applies to the way an office is designed. More regulations apply – Displaced Screen Equipment – about how to place your monitor on your desk and taking regular breaks from your work station. This means standing up and moving regularly. A lot of the companies I advise have benefitted their staff for a better office lay out, like moving the printer where you have to walk to it, allowing people to move around more.

For good musculoskeletal health moving and motion is so important. And that is true beyond working age – be as active as possible and make the inactive part as small as possible.

Sitting is the new smoking

There is so much research on this subject and conclusions are clear: excessive sitting is life- threatening. Extended periods of sitting increase chances of several types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and MSK. Regular movement can also help keep cognitive ability sharp as you age and it can also reduce risk of depression and anxiety and improve sleep.

Consider this from James Levine, professor of medicine at the world renowned Mayo Clinic:

Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV, and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death. The chair is out to kill us.

So for better musculoskeletal health don’t sit around thinking about it, get up and move. It will ‘stand’ you in good stead for a better life at work and at home.

For advice or training on preventing MSK, the A-Z of relevant regulations and associated control measures and correct manual handling contact us today on 0151 545 0497.

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