In 2020 and the start of the global Covid-19 pandemic, the UK sickness absence rate fell to its lowest level since the Office of National Statistics (ONS) began collecting data in 1995.
With an overall sickness absence rate of just 1.8% for the UK and 2.0% for Scotland during this time, you might have thought the rate would be much higher given the spread of coronavirus around the world.
However, the coronavirus accounted for 14% of all sickness absences in the UK in 2020 – musculoskeletal problems such as back pain, neck and upper limb problems being an even more common reason (15.4 %) sick leave..
Musculoskeletal disorders are one of the most common work-related health problems in all industries. They are associated with stress on the body caused by the way certain work activities are performed and affect muscles, nerves, tendons, joints and intervertebral discs. It includes lower back pain, tendonitis, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Musculoskeletal problems were also the most common cause of absence for most of the previous decade until 2020, when problems in the “Other” category (such as accidents, infectious diseases, skin disorders) and poisonings) were higher..
Musculoskeletal disorders disrupt the workforce – on or at sea
At International SOS, our teams pride themselves on effectively managing a wide variety of health issues for onshore and offshore clients. We found that in 2021, musculoskeletal issues have accounted for 28.4% of overall diagnoses to date, the most common lower limb and back issues in both the pre-Covid and Covid times..
Overall, the advent of the job retention scheme, or leave, has resulted in a positive reduction in the prevalence of back problems (-20%) – but has also led to an increase in the number of people reporting back problems. lower limbs, up 7%. .
Over the past year, however, we have seen office-specific clients reporting the exact opposite, with an increase in upper limb disorders (10%) versus reduction in the back (8%) and lower limbs ( 9%) problems.
In comparison, data from our offshore customers shows that while more injuries are recorded during the Covid period, they are less work-related than before – the majority occurring at sea between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. during this time.
Our analysis of the timing of most injuries at sea reveals that apart from those involving the neck and hand, all other types of injuries occurred more frequently during the early stages of a client’s journey during the pandemic. of Covid-19. There were, for example, 10% more back injuries and 18% more elbow injuries within two weeks of their trip during Covid. Shoulder injuries jumped 15% in the first week of an offshore trip, while ankle injuries were also 10% more common during that same period.
How International SOS can help you
Musculoskeletal issues can make all aspects of life more difficult, from reduced mobility to increased pain levels when performing simple tasks. A good ergonomics program on the job site can help prevent these injuries from occurring, taking into account the health and well-being of people, their environment, their activities and the equipment used.
A rigorous pre-employment screening program helps highlight any pre-existing issues before any labor begins, while our return-to-work medical exams and workfit assessments provide gradual return-to-work advice with adjustments and personalized advice in the short and long term.
Additionally, strengthening the next level of support for clients working overseas can provide comprehensive management and support of MSK issues, proving to be a crucial factor in deciding whether or not a medical evacuation is required. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of offshore injuries managed on board increased. This reduced medical evacuation rates from 11.91% before Covid to 9.23% during the pandemic.
Musculoskeletal issues can affect us at any stage of our life, which is why it is so important to stay focused on prevention as well as on recovery. By combining awareness of the factors we can control (such as work environment, posture, movement and repetition) with market-leading specialist support and education services, we can all contribute to make our environments a safer place to work.
To learn more about International SOS and its musculoskeletal management services, contact Claire Westbrook-Keir, Director of Key Account Management: [email protected]
Leaker, D. and Kumar, K., 2021. Illness absence in the UK labor market. [online] ons.gov.uk. Available on :
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