By Raffi Terzian, M.D., M.P.H., FACEP
Senior Medical Director,
Senior Vice President of Clinical Operations
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) can have a significant impact on workplace productivity, absenteeism and healthcare costs. A 2017 analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which explored trends in the cost of treating diseases, found that musculoskeletal diseases were ranked among the leading contributors to overall health services spending growth.
In terms of the workplace, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2015), of those injuries and illnesses causing days away from work, MSDs accounted for thirty-one percent of the total cases for all workers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration also notes that work-related MSDs are among the most frequently reported causes of lost or restricted work time. Examples of common MSDs include carpal tunnel syndrome, low back pain and back injuries, and arthritis.
Employees working across different industries such as transportation, construction, agriculture and manufacturing as well as service industries (police, fire, EMS) are at risk for developing MSDs. Occupational risk factors include heavy lifting, bending, awkward postures, reaching overhead, pushing and pulling heavy loads, and repetitive tasks.
Developing proactive strategies to prevent or mitigate MSDs in the workplace, and promoting workplace health, should be an important focus for employers. Assessing ergonomic factors and hazards in the workplace and developing a comprehensive program to address them is a central element in the reduction and prevention of MSDs, and it is valuable to involve employees in this process. In terms of programs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies a number of work-related programs and interventions to address MSDs. They include providing workplace lifestyle health promotion programs and training to management and workers regarding workplace risk for MSDs, and identifying community education programs on arthritis self-management. The CDC also identifies policy strategies to promote workplace health and well-being including implementing policies to demonstrate employer commitment to safety and disability management and return-to-work policies to support employees.
It is also important that employees with MSDs receive the appropriate care. Employees should proactively report symptoms and seek treatment early to prevent worsening of a condition. It may also be valuable to engage with an occupational health provider who can provide expertise oriented toward workplace illnesses and injuries. For employees who may require more complex or specialized surgical care, employers may opt to establish a relationship with a Center of Excellence for a given condition.
Musculoskeletal disorders are a significant cost driver for employers in terms of both direct and indirect costs. Developing a comprehensive strategy to prevent and reduce them — and promoting overall workplace health — is beneficial to employers and employees alike.
Health Advocate can help employees with MSDs, by helping them understand their treatment options and locating the right providers, so they get the right care and treatment to maintain their health and productivity. Contact us to learn more.