This article discusses why all employees should consider a Healthy Workforce strategy.

In 2015/2016, the Health and Safety at Work Executive reported that there were 539,000 Work Related Musculoskeletal Disorders (WRMSD’s), and these are only the ones that have been reported. This accounts for 41% of all work related illnesses. 

From this, it was estimated that 8.8 million working days were lost, averaging 16 days working days lost per case. This can often have significant effects for both the employer in terms of cost of finding a replacement or loss of productivity whilst that employee is off, and the employee in terms of any financial loss of not being at work, as well as missing out on all of the recognised health benefits of being at work.

Healthy WorkforceIt is widely recognised that the fittest population group is those who are in employment and from that, it is fair to assume that being at work is good for us! There is a strong association between unemployment and poorer health, including mental health and work can help reverse the health effects of unemployment.

With a cost benefit ratio of around 12:1, in favour of implementation of occupational health and healthy workforce strategies, having systems and professionals in place to keep the employee at work is of great benefit to both the employer and employee.

Workplaces should be encouraged to promote a Healthy Workforce

With the HSE placing greater focus on tackling ill health in the workplace as part of their 2016 strategy, workplaces should be encouraged to promote a healthy workforce with both the employer and employee taking an active role in this. The Chief Medical Officer recommends that adults over 25 should be participating in “moderate exercise” for 150 minutes per week, which should include two strength based sessions, on two separate days. In a 2013 survey by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, 57% of workers polled said they were not doing this amount of exercise

Health workforce strategies such as incorporating exercise into the workday, having Occupational Health Allied Health Professionals in the workplace and promoting activity during the day to break up sedentary tasks can often have a productive effect on reducing absenteeism and encouraging a healthier and happier workforce.

It is widely recognized that we will developing an ageing workforce over the forthcoming years so now is the time to make that investment in health in the workplace to ensure that workers, in whatever sector, are taking a more proactive role in keeping themselves fit for work as they get older.

Risk Factors for Developing Work Related Musculoskeletal Disorders

Previously, it was often considered that doing heavy manual work was bad for us and would only cause problems for the workers. It is now however recognized that being active is good for us and the risk factors for developing Work Related Musculoskeletal Disorders include:

Work related musculoskeletal disorders• Becoming stiff or weak (this can have a significant effect on how well we might perform a task, for example a lifting task from the floor to waist level, or even if sitting at a desk).

 • Poor general fitness, which can lead to increased fatigue both at work and out of work which has an affect on workplace productivity.

• Being sedentary (this is considered the biggest factor for developing long term non communicable disorders such as Type II Diabetes, Heart Disease and Arthritis).

 • Repetitive or sustained tasks (which should not be confused with “RSI” (Repetitive Strain Disorders) as this is often an unhelpful term and no longer recognized as a cause of musculoskeletal disorder).

 • Poor quality of sleep

 • Stress (which is considered the biggest pre cursor to developing WRMSD’s if it is not managed).

Whilst this might appear a daunting list, the most important thing to point out is that all of these can be affected or changed by the employer and employee.

Wellbeing in the WorkplaceEncouraging the workforce to be involved in wellness events, or having healthy workforce strategies to promote health and wellbeing will often have a positive effect on the workforce. This could include running Pilates/Yoga/Tai Chi classes during lunch breaks or even having organized groups walks encouraging people to leave their workstations.

Health screening may identify those in the workforce who perhaps do not meet recognized levels of fitness or wellbeing, but working along side therapists who can advise employees on exercise strategies may significantly improve the health and fitness of those in employment.

Therapists will also identify factors contributing towards poor sleep and stress in the workplace and help implement processes and actions which help address these, and often will stop that employee going on to develop further physical or mental health issues which could affect their presenteeism at work.