Maintaining staff at work
The key to maintaining staff at work is to create a healthy workplace which includes monitoring the health of your employees. You need to know if people are having problems before you can do anything about it. Key things that can be done at this stage include:
Reduce physical risks in the workplace
The most important physical risk factors associated with musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) include:
- Regular exposure to very heavy tasks does slightly increase the risk of someone having pain
- Prolonged static postures that people find uncomfortable
- Repetitive and monotonous work without sufficient job rotation or rest.
- Prolonged vibration
- Awkward working positions
- Poor workplace design without suitable aids to help people manage load efficiently
Reducing your employees' exposure to these may decrease the likelihood of MSD.
Address any psychological risks in the workplace
There is now irrefutable evidence that 'psycho-social' factors are as important as physical risk factors in developing and recovering from MSD. These include:
- Mental stress and anxiety
- Lack of job satisfaction
- Unhelpful beliefs and expectations about pain, work and healthcare
- Poor advice from family and friends
- Lack of trust in management
- Preoccupation with health
- Fear of re-injury
If these factors are present in your workplace you need to address them. As well as helping to reduce workplace absence, it is also good human resources practice.
Provide adequate training
There is a legal duty on employers to provide suitable health and safety training for staff. This can include training in:
- Risk assessment
- Manual handling
- Display screen equipment
- Managing workplace stress
Change or rotate duties
Identify activities the employee finds difficult to perform due to their condition and find alternative ways of doing them, or ask the employee to do other duties for a limited period of time. Allow staff to rotate duties so they are exposed to prolonged single activities for shorter periods.
There are many ways in which changes can be made to the workplace to help support staff:
Changing working hours
You may be able to offer flexible working hours in the short term - remember, conditions can improve quite quickly and it is better to keep staff at work than have them off sick.
Good use of breaks
Repetitive work may aggravate certain conditions so it may be beneficial to allow employees to take regular breaks from repetitive work. Strategies such as taking a short break or doing regular exercise can help to manage musculoskeletal conditions.
Make sure that you are providing the necessary equipment to allow your staff to carry out their work safely and efficiently. Ensure that staff know how to use equipment properly and that it is maintained and serviced appropriately.
Ergonomics is an approach which puts human needs and capabilities at the centre of design - whether it is a product or your workplace. The aim is to ensure that people work in harmony with their environment, with equipment and tasks aligned to human characteristics.
Workplace adjustments need not be difficult. You will often find easy solutions by working with your employee and their Trade Union representatives. At other times you may need to seek professional advice. The key steps in planning adjustments are:
- Consider the needs of your employee and what they can do
- Assess the difficulties your employee is facing at work
- Consider the adjustments needed to overcome these difficulties
- Review health and safety risk assessments in the light of the proposed adjustments
- Review how well the adjustments work
- Seek professional advice, where necessary, to help you make informed decisions.