Employer, prevent musculoskeletal symptoms in your company

Being proactive is the best way you can promote musculoskeletal health. Identify the physical workload factors and systematically take action in advance together with your employees and the occupational health services.

Develop the work and the work environment

“In a human-centred work environment, work flows smoothly, and employees can use their skills in the best way possible to achieve good results.” (Launis & Lehtelä).

Build a strategy for preventing musculoskeletal (MSK) disorders at your workplace. You can regulate physical workload using ergonomics. The objective is to achieve smooth, efficient, and high-quality interactions among humans and other elements of a system and to ensure the safety, health, and work ability of employees. Developing work processes, technological solutions and human activity is always a collective effort. It is all about combining several different perspectives and competencies. Strengthening supervisors’ and employees’ competence is the best way to succeed in this.

Look at the big picture and identify physical workload factors

Look at the work system as a whole when getting to know the work of your employees and learning how to identify and reduce the physical workload factors caused by the work.

Look at

  • the work environment 
  • the tasks 
  • the work community 
  • the tools 
  • the work processes 
  • leadership 
  • the employees. 

A change made to one part of this system will impact the other parts. It is important for you to observe whether the impacts are positive or negative and whether they are sufficient or insufficient. By developing the work system as a whole, you will achieve results that allow you to prevent musculoskeletal (MSK) symptoms and disorders.

You can use several means

  1. Change the work processes so that the most strenuous tasks can be avoided altogether. 
  2. Reduce the sustained strenuous work by, for example, using work rotation or breaking work into shorter phases so that it causes less strain.  
  3. Reduce the repetition or the duration of strenuous work movements and postures. 
  4. Acquire more suitable tools and assistive devices for work. 
  5. Provide ergonomics training and guidance tailored based on your employees’ work. 
  6. Reduce the strain by intermitting work with scheduled and active recovery. 

The occupational health services and ergonomics specialists are there to help you develop work.

Build a workplace culture where even difficult issues can be addressed

What kind of culture does your company have? How well does it support your employees’ mental and physical health? Is it permitted to talk about the workload and MSK symptoms? Do you tackle issues when someone raises them?

Your employee who has symptoms may try to soldier on and put up with their symptoms by ignoring or hiding them. This can lead to prolonged symptoms, slower work, and quality issues. Although individual factors, lifestyles and choices made outside of work affect the development of MSK symptoms, putting the blame on the employee is not the way forward. By making the employee feel guilty about symptoms or belittling them, you prevent the issues from being addressed and fail to find solutions that could potentially benefit the entire workplace.

Build a workplace culture that encourages employees to bring to light workload factors and talk about their MKS symptoms as early as possible. Strive to make it normal and acceptable and lower the threshold for asking for and receiving support at the workplace. Encourage employees to seek help from the occupational health services and be sure to carry out the necessary measures at the workplace.

When your workplace culture is based on trust and good will, your employees will feel comfortable talking about their successes, as well as their issues and difficulties. Make sure that supervisors have the skills, expertise, and support for leading their employees.

Build more competence in preventing MSK symptoms

Practical experience from workplaces has shown that one effective way to reduce MSK symptoms is to teach supervisors and employees how to identify MSK symptoms and the factors affecting them. You can build this competence in both orientation sessions for new employees and training programmes for the entire personnel. When your employees know what to do when they develop MSK symptoms, the symptoms can be brought under control in time. The occupational health services and especially your occupational health physiotherapist can help you in this.

Supervisors play a key role. Make sure that they are committed to and are aware of their responsibility in preventing MSK symptoms. Also make sure that all your employees know that maintaining and supporting health and safety in your company is something you value highly. Supervisors, HR representatives and occupational health services can all contribute by guiding, advising, and emphasising the matter.

  1. 1. Make sure that physically strenuous work is varied

    • Plan the work so that it includes tasks involving varying types of physical exertion, for example, alternate use of the upper and lower limbs or walking, standing, and sitting.  
    • Balance the load so that the work movements are done evenly on both sides. For example, hand movements are distributed to both hands or back movements on both sides.  
    • Alternate immobility and physical activity. 

    2. Make sure that the tools and the workstation are functional and that they can be adjusted to match the characteristics of different employees

    • There are not many average-sized people. Acquire tools, furniture and equipment that can be adjusted to suit the different employee’s measurements. 
    • Take the employees’ needs into account when designing and acquiring workstations and equipment.

    3. Make sure that the employees have the chance to recover sufficiently both at work and between shifts

    • Take workload factors into account when determining the duration, quantity, and content of recovery during work shifts. If physically strenuous work is performed in hot temperatures, more frequent breaks are needed than in cooler temperatures. 
    • Plan the work shifts so that there is enough recovery time between them, at least 11 hours.  
    • You can enhance recovery at work by, for example, organising restorative exercises and stretching sessions during breaks.

    4. Make sure that the temperature in the workspace is suitable or that it can be adjusted based on the amount of effort required by the work

    • If your employees’ work is physically strenuous, the work environment must be cooler.  
    • If your employees perform physically strenuous work in a hot environment, the breaks and hydration must be planned to allow for sufficient recovery during the workday.  
    • If your employees work in a cold environment, you must give them the opportunity to take breaks in a warm space and provide them with suitable work clothing.

    5. Train and support supervisors to identify harmful workload factors and to anticipate and prevent symptoms caused by them