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The business case – tackling MSDs in the workplace has a return on investment

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are the most prevalent work-related health issue and are among the top causes of sick leave in the EU. As a result, they can be costly to employers in terms of healthcare, compensation, absenteeism, and productivity loss. However the conditions are preventable and manageable. By taking steps to tackle their development, companies can reduce costs and see a return on investment.

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The prevalence of MSDs

Not only do roughly 3 in every 5 workers in the EU report MSD complaints, but around 60% of all workers with a work-related health problem identify an MSD as the most serious issue.

Considering the ageing workforce across the EU, combined with new and emerging risk factors such as the prolonged periods of sitting associated with office and remote work, the issue is likely to continue to be prevalent in the coming years. Given how frequently MSDs occur in workers, the conditions could incur high costs to businesses. In addition to a legal responsibility, protecting workers’ health and quality of life is good for business.

The cost to businesses

There are a broad range of costs – both direct and indirect – associated with the development of work-related MSDs. Direct costs include employers paying for healthcare, medicines and workers’ compensation, should a member of the workforce develop a musculoskeletal condition.

Furthermore, there are indirect costs to the business connected to MSDs. Workers with MSDs tend to be absent from work on a more regular basis, so the conditions are likely to cause disruption and delays to business processes and a loss of productivity within teams. In addition, if workers are absent for a period of time to recover, or if they take forced or early retirement, then there will be an extra cost in hiring replacement staff. Overall, without proper prevention and management, MSDs can have serious economic consequences for a business.

Preventive measures as an investment

Musculoskeletal disorders are preventable, so by taking early action to counter their development, businesses can eliminate or reduce many of these costs.

To prevent the development of MSDs, companies must carry out a risk assessment to understand the scale of the problem. They can then implement a number of preventive measures, for example ensuring that workers are rotating tasks to avoid repetitive movements, encouraging workers to take regular breaks to avoid uncomfortable positions or periods of prolonged sitting, providing ergonomic equipment or providing equipment to help with lifting or moving.

These measures should be complemented by a workplace policy of early intervention, with employers taking direct action as soon as an MSD complaint is reported. Left unmanaged, the complaint is likely to worsen for the employee and increase the economic impact on the business.

For maximum benefit, businesses should also focus on the rehabilitation of employees that have suffered from an MSD. By carefully managing the return to work for employees who have been absent, businesses can ensure that the worker recovers steadily and that team productivity is not negatively affected any further.

Tackling the development of MSDs in the workplace can have a positive economic impact on businesses, in addition to improving the safety and health of workers. This is demonstrated by the fact that workers in countries and sectors where more preventive measures are in place are less likely to report MSD complaints. For more statistical information on MSDs, visit the facts and figures priority area, which will be the focus of the Healthy Workplaces Lighten the Load campaign between January and March. Don’t forget to follow the campaign on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for further updates.