By Daniel Hunter

A lack of information and support around back problems is hitting the productivity of smaller businesses, according to new research from AXA PPP healthcare.

Back pain accounts for the greatest number of sick days behind minor illnesses such as coughs and colds according to small business owners surveyed, with 61% saying that staff with back problems are a growing issue.

One in five small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) employers (21%) do not see back pain as a valid reason to take sick leave, supporting the notion that back pain is still considered by some to be ‘shirkers syndrome’.

More than one in three employers (37%) consider ailments such as the flu or stomach bugs to be worse than back pain.

Meanwhile, over half of respondents (55%) said they were affected by issues relating to back pain, highlighting the extent of the problem.

“This data emphasises that we need more education and support to help SMEs — the ‘backbone of Britain' — understand back pain and musculoskeletal issues so that they can proactively support their workforce and find ways to minimise the disruption back pain can have on workplace productivity.” said Jan Vickery, AXA PPP healthcare’s head of musculoskeletal health.

The good news is, many SMEs who are aware of the consequences of back problems are actively making an effort to manage these back related issues in the workplace. Nearly a third (30%) carry out regular workplace assessments, 31% provide ergonomic equipment and 21% provide standing desks on request.

However, 15% of SMEs admitted they have no measures in place to support staff with back problems or prevent issues arising in the first place.

Ms Vickery said: “Where SMEs are proactive and introducing measures to enhance the ‘health’ of their workforce they can derive multiple benefits, including increased engagement and productivity. Strategies and policies to manage and prevent back pain, and better education — of managers and employees alike — can also go some way in helping to achieving this. Back pain can be long-lasting and have a significant impact on a person’s physical and mental wellbeing, and we urge SMEs to seek support in order to fully understanding back problems and its associated issues, so they are able to help employees through any issues they encounter.”

Top tips from AXA PPP Healthcare

· Proactively promote good musculoskeletal health by reminding staff of good posture (sitting with a well-supported ‘s-shaped’ spine)

· Work with employees to identify potential issues. For office-based professions, try to ensure workers’ posture is not compromised by poor work equipment (such as non-adjustable chairs) and badly functioning workstations. And, for manual workers, remind employees of the importance of moving correctly as they go about their tasks, as awkward bending or twisting and over exertion could create musculoskeletal problems that hinder their ability to work

· Encourage employees to take breaks away from their work to move around — this will provide physical benefits and refocus the mind

· Support and encourage employees who are self-managing back pain — this may include taking regular breaks or making reasonable specific work adjustments for that person (such as bespoke ergonomic assessments)

· Encourage employees who are struggling to manage back pain to seek professional help

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