It affects 80% of the population at some point in their lives. The NHS spends £5bn every year treating it. A quarter of all UK adults consult with physiotherapists like us each year because of it. And it costs the UK economy £20bn annually.
There’s no doubt about it – back pain is the scourge of British business. And let’s not get started on other musculoskeletal conditions like shoulder pain, repetitive strain injuries and joint issues that collectively have an equally detrimental impact on people and industry.
Given the negative effect preventable musculoskeletal conditions have on profitability, it’s hard to understand why UK businesses seem disinclined to look at the ergonomics – or effectiveness of the working environment – in their premises.
The simple fact is that on average each year a business will lose 7 days a year per staff absence through sickness. The bigger the business, the greater the cost – and for many large businesses, the loss in productivity in pure pounds and pence terms can be one of the heaviest liabilities on the balance sheet.
So when you consider that businesses will always seek to control costs if they want to remain profitable, the failure of many – and especially SMEs – to look carefully at how their working environment contributes to revenue inefficiencies becomes that much harder to fathom.
Not long ago, Honeywell – the US electronics manufacturer – undertook a root and branch ergonomic assessment across its entire North American operation, where 58,000 of its 130,000-strong global workforce is based. The investment, at $350,000, was significant and would be sufficiently eyewatering to have deterred many similarly-sized businesses from committing to the project.
But Honeywell’s management understood that the potential long-term benefits of identifying and then, crucially, solving it’s ergonomics issues would deliver net savings across the business. And so it proved.
At a stroke, Honeywell slashed absences, estimating a $100,000 saving on real costs. But the true benefit was to be found in productivity, which leapt by $2.1m as staff, working in better and more comfortable conditions, naturally improved efficiency and concentration.
And that, of course, is also the gift that keeps on giving, since the benefits realised through its ergonomic assessment project will continue to deliver the same cost and revenue benefits every year.
It’s hard to argue, then, that knowing how the working environment impacts efficiency is good for the bottom line of your business. But what’s actually involved in reviewing the set-up at your premises and what are the benefits of asking us to carry it out?
A crucial aspect of ergonomic assessment for musculoskeletal disorders relates to ensuring there is a consistent procedure or review mechanism – in other words, making sure every element of the environment is measured against the same standards and benchmarks and then applied to the individual roles and functions of your people.
This is good practice because it not only sets a common standard, but also means you can ensure that when new employees come into the business they are allocated a space that best suits the role they’re being asked to perform.
The best people to help deliver an effective ergonomic review of the workplace are the people who work there – and so it’s important to involve them in the process in a non-judgemental way.
This is where having an independent assessor like West 1 Physio involved reaps benefits, because your staff are far more likely to give an honest personal assessment of the conditions in which they work than would be the case if their line manager or other senior employee within the company were doing it.
The point of an assessment is to expose the areas you can improve – not to hide them.
An effective assessment is made up of a number of elements. Each has a recommended template but broadly speaking, the assessment should benchmark the following areas:
This will help to give you the consistency you need, meaning you’ll be able to identify improvements or deterioration in each environment when you come to re-assess further down the line.
These benchmarks will also allow you to get an overview of the general wellbeing of your staff.
Once the whole environment has been assessed, we’ll be able to sit down with you and your management team and identify the areas of the building that need attention, specific workstations that require action and the roles and functions that are most at risk.
This, in turn, allows you to take proactive steps to safeguard both your employees and the efficiency of your business.
It’s a mantra for business generally, but it’s quite literally relevant when it comes to the performance of your business and your people.
Understanding the action you need to take and taking a ‘triage’ approach to the to-do list means you can plan remedial work in a way that is effective and affordable, delivering physical changes to the workspace and occupational health support to the people responsible for generating profit – your employees.