Strategy to reduce sickness absence due to musculoskeletal disorders at Royal Mail

At the recent Health and Wellbeing @Work conference in Birmingham, Royal Mail’s Lead Ergonomist, Corinne Parsons, presented how they had planned their strategy for reducing absence due to musculoskeletal disorders. As background information Ms. Parsons highlighted that the main long-term sickness absence causes at Royal Mail are mental health (20%), musculoskeletal disorders (23%), and injury (23%). Furthermore, they have an ageing workforce and their workforce is 85% male.

Annie Excuses - Back ache

Royal Mail already had many things in place like an attendance management process, ergonomic assessment of new equipment and working methods, an OH service, gyms and wellbeing internet site. But they needed to do more to focus on this issue.

They decided on a 5-year plan. In year 1 they would analyse musculoskeletal absence and accident data and conduct a survey into causes in order to identify interventions to reduce absence. In year 2 and 3 they would develop and implement countermeasures to correct issues, control risks, and influence business design. And in year 4 and 5 they planned to monitor and control compliance.

Through the analysis of their absence data they found that the main musculoskeletal absences were due to back, knee and foot issues, back issues being the largest group. They also found that the length of absence tends to rise with age – number of absences tend to be lower below age 30.

The surveys that they completed were done both through questionnaires and focus groups. The questions focused on identifying causes of problems, suggestions to improvements, barriers to improvements etc. Royal Mail had a very good participation rate in the survey, and they were able to identify problem areas, gaps in training, and received a lot of input and ideas for improving specific work areas. One of the new initiatives after this project was setting up musculoskeletal awareness training for employees.

Though the presentation did not cover this, our recommendation at Honeydew Health is to always evaluate any initiatives – in this case by reviewing the absence data again to see any impact these changes have had on absence trends caused by musculoskeletal issues.