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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Alert24 - Safeguard Update

MSD plan needed

MSD plan needed
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New Zealand

As the workforce ages, employers are going to need help to implement effective management strategies for musculoskeletal disorders, a physiotherapy lecturer told the Royal Australasian College of Physician Congress in Auckland last month.

Dr Peter Larmer, head of AUT's School of Rehabilitation and Occupation Studies, said a 2013 study of New Zealanders aged 45 to 65 had found that arthritis, low back pain and other MSDs accounted for more lost working hours than all other mental and physical health conditions combined.

"They are the number one reason for people being off work, or having to stop work early."

One in four New Zealanders are affected by MSDs, he said, and each year the conditions cost the country billions in lost productivity. By 2020 it is predicted that the most common form of MSD, osteoarthritis, will affect 10% of the population.

Despite the increasing prevalence of these conditions, Larmer said, New Zealand has no formal guidelines for their management, and this absence of reliable information - for both patients and employers - makes it harder to keep people in work. Those who do remain at work are often less productive, and require more sick leave, because of their disability.

A survey conducted by Arthritis NZ last year identified a variety of work-related issues associated with the disease, including the negative perceptions of co-workers - a factor that possibility contributed to the widespread reluctance to ask for any changes to work arrangements.

"Eighty percent of respondents said arthritis had affected their ability to work during the past year and more than half said they felt they would benefit from modifications or greater flexibility at work. While 50% thought their employer might respond positively if asked to make such changes, most hadn't felt confident enough to ask."

Larmer said many countries have national guidelines for the management of MSDs, and as the retirement age moves up New Zealand will also need to develop formalised management practices so it can keep people in productive work for longer.

Government funding would be needed, he said, to establish a regime focused on early diagnosis and intervention, and to provide employers with reliable information about work capacity, workplace modifications and return to work. "Continuing engagement in work should be considered a clinical outcome, and for this reason we will need to consider employment in conjunction with health priorities. What we're doing at present really isn't working."


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Peter Larmer
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From Alert24 - Safeguard Update

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