Back pain at work: What you need to know as an employer

Posted on December 2, 2015

Back pain and what you need to knowAlthough back pain is not often associated with young people, a survey carried out by the British Chiropractic Association 2015 showed that one in three sixteen to twenty-four year olds are currently living with neck or back pain1. This is undoubtedly a symptom of the new 'iPosture generation', which is characterised by people who are now spending as much time using technology as they are in bed asleep2. And, of course, it's not just youngsters that are suffering, but people of all ages.

As an employer, this kind of ailment amongst your staff is bound to get your back up, with it being a known contributor to employee absence. In fact, according to the 2015 CIPD Absence Management Survey, back pain is one of the top causes of long term absence from work3. With this in mind, it seems vital that we support employers in both managing and preventing back pain. The benefits of doing so are bountiful. Not only will you reduce the need to claim on your employee insurance, your company will thrive under the hands of a happy, motivated and more productive body of staff. Here are some ways to get started:

Follow the right protocol

As an employer, it's important that you ensure every member of your staff undergoes a Display Screen Equipment (DSE) assessment. This will ensure that their screen is positioned in such a way that isn't forcing them to sit in an awkward position, for example, straining to look upwards. It's also a good idea to watch out for things like slumping or slouching staff, increased absence due to back pain, complaints about chairs or equipment and even negative changes in mood. By making a concerted effort to keep in tune with these alerting factors, you'll be better able to spot back pain issues and tackle them head on.

Promote desk exercises

Performing regular desk exercises is a great way to keep muscles relaxed and prevent them from becoming stiff and sore. However, staff may feel too self conscious to carry out such activities, choosing to suffer instead. To counteract this, why not lighten the mood in the office by getting all employees to take part in a fun demonstration? Simplyhealth has a whole hub of information on back care and back pain prevention, including this handy sheet of desk exercises (PDF), which could be printed and given to employees.

Break up sedentary periods

Sitting for prolonged periods is a sure fire way to get on the road to back pain. So much so that health experts recommend getting up at least once every thirty minutes and moving around for a minimum of one to two minutes. As an employer, it's important that you make your staff feel comfortable in doing this. Let them know that it's not a problem for them to break up their sedentary day, so they don't feel worried about being accused of slacking when away from their desks.

Get to grips with ergonomics

Equally as important as ensuring your employees' screens are set up correctly is ensuring that they're using their chairs properly and are sitting with a good posture. First and foremost, make sure that every member of staff has a proper workstation chair, with adjustable seat height and a backrest that's adjustable in height and tilt. It may be a good idea to run the occasional session demonstrating to staff how to make best use of their chair and how to sit, repeating these on a one-to-one basis for new employees. For example, you should always sit as close to the desk as possible, with the backs of your arms resting against the back of your chair, and with your forearms at right angles to your upper arms. Thighs should also be at right angles to your body, or slightly sloping downwards4.

Offer incentives for employees to get fit

Living an active lifestyle and practicing regular, core-strengthening exercises are a good way to keep back problems at bay. With this in mind, it could be an idea to offer incentives for your employees to get fit. One way of doing so is to offer a gym membership as an employee benefit, or perhaps you could arrange a partnership with a nearby gym to secure a discount for your members of staff. You could also arrange group after-work fitness activities, and offer rewards for those that do well, such as an additional day's holiday or a bonus.

One of the most important things to remember when it comes to back related absence is that prevention is always better than a cure. There's no holding back when it comes to ensuring your employees are in the best possible comfort. With a little raised awareness, education and encouragement, both you and your staff can beat back problems before they've become just that - a problem.

Sources

1. British Chiropractic Association: Sitting comfortable? Your back isn't 
2. Simplyhealth: Insight Spring 2014 (PDF)
3. Simplyhealth: 2015 CIPD Absence Management Survey
4. NHS: How to sit correctly

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