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 musculo-skeletal disorders include:

  • Frequent heavy lifting
  • Twisting and bending
  • Prolonged static postures
  • Repetitive work
  • Vibration
  • Awkward working positions
  • Poor workplace design

Reducing your employees' exposure to these may decrease the likelihood of MSD becoming a serious problem.

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.

Sound ergonomics

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 postural break or doing regular stretches can help to manage musculo-skeletal conditions.
  • Equipment

    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.
  • Sound ergonomics

    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

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.

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