Working Through Arthritis
- Date: Tuesday 15th August 2017
- PDF: Download
The latest in our series on supporting workers with chronic health conditions considers the musculoskeletal condition that is not limited to older workers.
Arthritis is an umbrella term that covers about 200 musculoskeletal conditions affecting ten million people in the UK. These disorders, including arthritis, are the second biggest cause of ill-health absence, resulting in 30.8 million working days lost last year, or one-fifth of all sick leave – minor ailments such as coughs and colds accounted for 34 million days’ absence.
Contrary to public perception, arthritis affects people of all ages. However, some types are more common in older people, so as the working population ages, employers will need to help staff to manage their conditions or face rising absence costs and the loss of experienced employees.
Arthritis Research UK says only 60% of working-age people with persistent musculoskeletal disorders are in employment, even though many more want to work and could do so with the right support. Its website has information on how employees with arthritis can keep working and the organisation has produced a policy report on working with arthritis.
According to Arthritis Care, there are simple adjustments that can help employees with musculoskeletal disorders remain in work. Many of these are common to assisting employees with the other chronic disorders. They include:
- Modifying the workstation by providing a specialist chair, back rest, foot support, wrist rests, a mouse and keyboard that support the wrists and hands, or voice-activated software
- Allowing the employee to take short, regular breaks
- Moving the workspace to the ground floor or making it easier to access the current working area
- Reallocating duties
- Allowing reasonable time off for treatement, assessment or rehabilitation
It is important that desk-based workers maintain a good posture and there is advice on this in Working with Arthritis. The guide also recommends that employees with musculoskeletal conditions move around every 20 minutes or so.
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To establish the severity of the arthritis and how the organisation can help the employee to stay in work, here are a couple of useful questions to ask:
- What tasks might you need some help with?
- What support would help you do your job?
For any other advice, please refer to a occupational health specialist.
In advanced cases, it may be helpful to seek assistance from a practitioner registered with the Royal College of Occupational Therapists. The Employment Medical Advisory Service can also offer advice on workplace health issues, risk assessment and control measures.
Some large employers have introduced schemes to promote good musculoskeletal health, identify problems early and offer prompt support to staff with progressive conditions.
Oil producer BP provides its office workers with software that allows them to complete an online workstation assessment and receive a risk or discomfort rating and recommendations on modifying their workstation set-up. Those with a moderate or high risk rating or who are in frequent discomfort will be followed up and perhaps referred to a healthcare professional. Another software program encourages regular breaks and movement.
Since the scheme was introduced in 2009, the number of staff with high risk ratings has fallen by more than two-thirds; the number reporting constant or frequent discomfort has also fallen significantly.