Why employee back pain matters and five ways you can help improve it

back care

Back pain is a pain in the, well, back. Unfortunately it’s a common problem, particularly the lower back variety which affects around 80% of adults at some point during their lives. In fact, lower back pain is so widespread, a recent study found it to be the biggest cause of disability worldwide. Given it’s prevalence in the general population it’s pretty likely some of your employees will suffer from a bad back at some point. And it’s not good news for them or you.

Difficult to focus
When experiencing pain it’s difficult to pay full attention to other activities, such as work. General aches, soreness or stiffness can affect an employee’s ability to focus and this becomes even more challenging if they are suffering from chronic pain which, according to Remploy, can include side effects such as tiredness, depression and irritability.

Lost working days
In 2016 around 137.3 million working days were lost due to sickness or injury, according to the latest Office for National Statistics report.  While the common cold took the top spot, it was closely followed by musculoskeletal problems (including back pain). and the 2016 Health and Safety Executive report found 214,000 total cases of back disorders amongst employees nationwide. This translated to over 3.4 million working days lost because of back issues with the average length employees were off sick almost 16 days per case.

Lowers retention rates
While most lower back pain is short term – typically lasting a few days to a few weeks – around 20% of cases will develop into chronic lower back pain, which can have serious consequences for staff retention rates. The longer an employee suffers from back pain the less chance they have of returning to work, according to new research. Musculoskeletal injuries make up 57% of long-term absence for manual workers and 46% for non-manual workers, according to the CIPD Absence Management 2016 survey.

Workplace back care responsibility
Over half a million people in the UK suffering from a musculoskeletal disorder think it was either caused or worsened by work. And according to a survey by Nuffield Health, employers aren’t doing enough about it.

In a different survey, a staggering 38% of people claimed their work caused their back or neck pain.

It seems like employers could be doing more to ensure their staff have a safe and healthy environment to work in. Here are a few ways to achieve just that…

Five tips to improve back care in the workplace

Give your workplace an ergonomic makeover
If it’s been a while since the ergonomics of your workplace have been considered, now is the time. Speak with staff and carry out an ergonomic risk assessment to identify potential problems and possible solutions.

Solutions could include supplying items such as lumbar support pillows, to help employees to sit correctly at their desk or foot supports to help staff place their feet on a firm surface. Alternatively, speak to your staff about whether they would be keen to trial a standing desk system.

Hire an Occupational Health Consultant
For larger companies, or if a large proportion of your employees are suffering from back problems, you may want to consider the advice of a qualified Occupational Health Consultant. They will work with you to come up with solutions that reduce employee’s pain, improve productivity and reduce costs associated with ill health absence.

This might also be a worthwhile route to explore if you work in an industry prone to back disorders. Employees working in construction, transport, health and social work are statistically much more likely to suffer a bad back than those working in other industries, according to a Health and Safety Executive report.

Encourage exercise
Almost three quarters of those suffering from back pain say they lead a sedentary lifestyle. The NHS says that staying active and achieving the recommended 150 minutes of exercise a week, and regular specific back exercises and stretches, can help prevent back pain.

Encourage staff to exercise by taking part in initiatives such as the Cycle to Scheme work or offering weekly exercise classes during lunchtime. You can also encourage a culture of staying active throughout the working day, for example you could try walking meetings or creating a weekly Fitbit step challenge. For further tips on helping employees fit exercise into their daily lives, read our article here.

Offer business healthcare services
While the costs of back pain to the NHS are estimated at around £1,000 million per year, much of these costs are associated with the small percentage of those whose back pain becomes chronic. There are a number of treatments that can be offered through business healthcare services which can help to avoid acute back pain turning chronic.

Healthcare services such as Benenden Healthcare for Business could provide physiotherapy treatment to help those suffering with back pain get back on their feet. Other plans like Benenden Health Cash Plan for Business, can also reimburse employees for the cost of chiropractic treatment. These treatments can help relieve your employees pain and get them back to work quicker. For more information on Benenden business Health and Wellbeing services visit http://www.benenden.co.uk/business.

Supply resources
The Health and Safety Executive suggest supplying your employees with The Back Book, as it contains evidence-based advice on how to cope with back pain. You might also want to point them in the direction of BackCare.org, an independent charity for helping people manage and avoid back pain.

Sign up to our newsletters

Receive news and guidance on a range of HR issues direct to your inbox

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Back care is a serious issue which, statistically speaking, probably already affects some of your employees. Why not try out some of the advice above to help prevent further cases of back pain and improve life for those suffering from it. Keep us posted on how it goes through Twitter or LinkedIn using #backcare

This content originally appeared on Benenden’s workplace hub where employers can find a range of related articles to help with their health and wellbeing strategy.