In the UK alone, 470,000 people have work-related musculoskeletal disorders. And 45% of workers report issues with the upper limbs and neck. These upper limb disorders (ULDs) include carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), repetitive strain injury (RSI), tendonitis or tenosynovitis and tennis elbow.
While most ULDs improve over time, it's essential to spot the signs early and provide effective treatment and support. What’s more, employers have a legal duty to identify jobs that can cause ULDs and take the necessary steps to reduce the risk. Arranging a DSE assessment is the best place to start. But how else can you support team members experiencing upper limb disorders?
ULDs are caused by repetitive movements that can damage the nerves, tendons, muscles and ligaments. Uncomfortable, awkward working environments, like a poor workstation setup for employees who hot desk, can also lead to upper limb disorders.
Symptoms to look out for include stiffness, pain, tingling, redness, swelling and even loss of movement.
What are some of the most common upper limb disorders?
So, what support can you expect if you or a team member is diagnosed with a ULD? Before anything else, it’s important to know the severity of the condition. While conditions like RSI and carpal tunnel syndrome can get better on their own within a few weeks, serious cases could end up requiring surgery.
However, here are a few actions you can take to reduce the risk and symptoms of upper limb disorders.
Employees with CTS, RSI and tenosynovitis should undertake a workstation assessment to evaluate their desk set-up. This will look at their display screen equipment and desk height, keyboard and mouse placement, and chair configuration, amongst other things.
Employees should also be given the opportunity to trial different equipment, including ergonomic keyboards and mice. It’s important to carry out a new DSE assessment whenever working conditions change or an employee undergoes changes, for instance pregnant workers require a specific pregnant worker DSE risk assessment.
The pandemic has created more opportunities for flexible working and we have taken learnings from the pandemic. While this brings lots of benefits, it also creates additional issues regarding ergonomic work practices. Employees at risk of developing a ULD should undertake a virtual workstation DSE assessment to ensure their WFH setup isn't contributing to poor work practices.
Employers should also offer a temporary reduction in working hours and regular breaks to minimise discomfort. If you’re an employee, speak to your manager about your upper limb disorder.
Training in good working techniques can help minimise mouse and keyboard use. This, in turn, can also help to drive down the risk of ULDs.
Employees with an RSI should get support to return to work, including physiotherapy to improve strength and therapy sessions to develop coping strategies. For example, mindfulness workshops can help deal with the stress of tight deadlines, high workloads and feeling unable to control the work environment, as well as desk massage days to help ease aches and pains.
Wearing a splint or wrist brace throughout the day can help to alleviate the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome or RSI. It does this by holding the wrist in a neutral position and preventing it from moving beyond its normal range of motion.
It’s best to get guidance from a medical professional before opting for a brace.
You'll be contributing to the health and well-being of your entire workforce by minimising the risks for ULDs. In addition, you can reduce the amount of sick leave your team members need and increase productivity.
A poorly designed workstation can have a range of negative impacts apart from ULDs. From eye strain and backache to fatigue, working with display screen equipment can be surprisingly risky! However, a DSE assessment can help reduce desk-based health risks and give employees a welcome boost of morale.
Whether you have a small team of remote employees or a big workforce in a shared office, a DSE assessment is essential. Aside from being a legal requirement, it can do wonders for your team’s health, wellbeing, and motivation.