Employee, promote your musculoskeletal health at work

Musculoskeletal (MSK) health is an important part of your work ability. Your physical functioning and work ability are impacted by both your own actions and the working conditions. Look after your functional capacity and work ability. If you find the work too strenuous, address the issue with your supervisor.

Musculoskeletal health is part of your work ability

Work ability means that you succeed in your work according to your own and your employer’s expectations. This requires that your resources (e.g., functional capacity, muscle strength, competence) are in balance with the demands of your work. Your physical work ability and functional capacity consist of your characteristics and capabilities to cope with the physical demands at work and during free time. Promoting and supporting MSK health is thus an important part of your work ability. It is important in all jobs and essential in jobs that involve physically strenuous tasks.

Speak up if you identify harmful workloads

It is your employer’s duty to make sure that your health or safety is not put at risk at work. Your employer must also see to it that the workload and risk factors of your work are identified and managed using appropriate tools, measures, and guidelines. As an employee, you are responsible for working safely, following the procedures and guidelines, using the provided tools, and raising any concerns.

The occupational health services will carry out a workplace survey, in which they will also investigate the duration and level of physical strain involved in your work. They assess the level of strain on musculoskeletal and respiratory and circulatory system based on their findings. They also assess what the workload means in terms of your work ability and health. You should actively participate in the survey by telling them about your work.

Discuss the workload factors that you find harmful with your supervisor and raise your concerns in time and with a low threshold.

This is particularly important if your work tasks involve recurrent or prolonged

  • manual handling of loads 
  • static muscle work, for example working with elevated arms 
  • repetitive work movements or sustained postures 
  • work phases that require the use of strength 
  • vibration affecting the whole body or the hands and arms 
  • psychosocial workload factors, such as high demands, few opportunities to influence and poor support from the work community and the supervisor. 

It is important that you act and discuss with your supervisor already before musculoskeletal symptoms appear. Do not wait for the situation to get worse. Also do not get discouraged even if the first discussion does not lead to practical measures.

Early support is for you

Early support practices should be agreed in all workplaces. This means that if you or your supervisor are concerned about your work ability, you can discuss it together. Ideally, these discussions are held with a very low threshold, and holding them is part of daily activities in line with the workplace culture. The objective of early support is to identify potential issues related to coping and work ability at an early stage and to find the right solutions. Suitable solutions are, for example, reducing the workload and accommodating the division of work or working hours. Sometimes it is a good idea to also involve the occupational health services. If you have a legitimate reason, you have the right to obtain an expert opinion on your workload from the occupational health services.

Addressing issues that occur at work or affect work should start at the workplace. In addition to this, workplaces with more than 10 employees always have an occupational health and safety representative, with whom you can discuss workload factors.

    1. When problems arise, discuss the situation with your supervisor as soon as possible. In many cases, your supervisor can help you perform your work through work accommodations and other arrangements.
    2. If working has become a struggle due to pain and reduced functional capacity, seek help from occupational health professionals, an occupational health physician or occupational health physiotherapist. Supporting work ability is part of the preventive statutory occupational health services. You can get support for your work ability from them even if your occupational health services does not include medical care. 

    3. It is often useful to ask an occupational health physiotherapist to visit the workplace to assess the workload and the need to accommodate your work. This ensures that you can continue working or successfully return to work from your sick leave.

    4. If your problems persist, you can propose a work ability negotiation. In addition to you, your supervisor and a representative of the occupational health services participate in the negotiation. If necessary, you can also ask the shop steward or the health and safety representative to attend. In the work ability negotiation, you will discuss together what your functional capacity at work is and what kind of work you are able to perform. There is no need to discuss the details related to your disorder. In the negotiation, you will find out how your supervisor can support your return to work and your work performance or reduce your need to take sick leave.

    5. Usually, you can return to work from your sick leave once the worst pain has eased and your functional capacity has been sufficiently restored. However, this often requires that your supervisor is ready to accommodate your work or make other arrangements. It is important that the demands and opportunities of your job match your work ability so that you can continue your recovery from the disorder at work.

Pace your work, take breaks, and recover

Make sure that you recover sufficiently. Recovery consists of recovery during the workday and recovery from work. Consider what suits you and your job. 

Recovery during the workday includes taking enough breaks and using them for recovery. For example, if you work in a standing position, you can walk during your breaks to get the blood circulating in your lower limbs and sit to rest your legs and feet. If you work with your hands, it is a good idea to do some restorative hand stretches and rest your hands. Fun exercise during breaks can be part of recovery at work. If you can schedule outdoor activities or some other restorative activity in the middle of the day, it will bring you extra energy. Recovery at work also means pacing your work in a smart way so that the workload is distributed more evenly. You can, for example, use your hands alternately to perform the work movements. You can also alternate work phases that require sitting and standing or perform the work phases that require more strength in the morning and lighter ones in the afternoon when your muscles are tired.

Recovery from work means how you recover between your work shifts. The recommendation is that you have at least 11 hours to recover between shifts. That allows you to include in your recovery routine enough sleep, exercise, relaxation, social interaction, and other free time activities that are important to you.

Vocational rehabilitation is an option when work ability weakens

Vocational rehabilitation may be an option when your work ability has weakened, and you cannot do your work properly. The objective of this rehabilitation provided by your employment pension insurance company is to enable you to continue in working life or return to work after your sick leave. You can apply for vocational rehabilitation even if you are not yet on sick leave, but a disorder hinders your work on a permanent basis.