The current state of musculoskeletal health management can be summed up by the following facts:
- MSDs are the leading cause of pain, suffering and disability in American workplaces.
- MSDs account for one-third of all workers compensation costs.
- MSDs account for almost 400,000 injuries every year.
- Direct costs of MSDs are $20 billion a year. Total costs are estimated to be between $45-54 billion.
- Indirect costs (lost productivity, product defects, etc.) of an MSD case can be up to five times the direct costs.
- MSD cases require 38% more lost time days than the average injury/illness.
The bottom line is that organizations are struggling to implement effective solutions to a known, well-defined, and costly problem. Through our engagement with numerous organizations over the last 30 years, we’ve seen three primary reasons organizations struggle to get a handle on musculoskeletal injuries. This is the status quo of musculoskeletal health management:
- A reactive approach perpetuates a downward spiral
- Organizational silos lower effectiveness of solutions
- Lack of common goals, tools, and information hampers decision making
1. A reactive approach perpetuates a downward spiral
The traditional approach to musculoskeletal health management is to reactively treat injuries as they occur. This treatment model is failing. It fails people who work hard for a living and it fails organizations who collectively spend over $1 billion per week treating musculoskeletal injuries. There is only so much cost control you can manage after an injury has already occurred.
A reactive approach reveals a lack of understanding of the problem and predictably results in incomplete solutions. Reactive tactics are rarely successful in the long term because the causative risk factors go undetected. When risk goes undetected, consistent and effective control measures aren’t put in place. With significant risk factors still hiding undetected and uncontrolled throughout the facility, another string of injuries is hiding just around the corner. It’s only a matter of time.
2. Organizational silos lower effectiveness of solutions
Striving for optimal musculoskeletal health and maximizing the human performance of your organization is a complex endeavor. There are physical, environmental, mental, and psychosocial factors that contribute to musculoskeletal health. A comprehensive, total solution is required but most organizations operate in silos with very little communication and collaboration.
When combined with the reactive approach, this organizational dysfunction magnifies the problem. Managers, safety teams, engineers, wellness committees, HR, medical providers, and employees — all with relevant subject matter expertise to contribute — can only impact the situation so much when they don’t have the necessary resources and information contained within the organizational silos of the other subject matter experts.
Even if all parties had the resources they need, would their priorities align to drive the amount of change needed? Too often the answer to that question is no, and the lack of organizational alignment is another frustrating setback.
This disparate and uncoordinated response to musculoskeletal health issues renders management efforts ineffective. There is no synergy. A total solution is missing — and nobody in the organization has the information they need to recognize it. Frustrated and confused, managers throw their hands up. “Let’s make sure we’re compliant” becomes the common-sense solution. And it’s the safe, easy, rational choice when you’ve put forth effort and aren’t getting results in return.
This leads to more reactive thinking and an ever faster downward spiral. The ill-conceived thought that musculoskeletal injuries are an unavoidable cost of business starts to dangerously soak in.
3. Lack of common goals, tools, and information hampers decision making
Management, safety, engineering, HR, wellness, medical treatment, onsite healthcare, and ergonomics — all the stakeholders and disciplines involved in musculoskeletal health — rely on different management tools and technology. All have different (and sometimes competing) goals, tools, and information.
Many of these departments and disciplines still rely on paper methods, making it even harder to provide access to information and invite collaboration to provide better solutions. Technology that was supposed to make work better is now getting in the way, creating a barrier between organizational leaders and subject matter experts making meaningful progress together.
Bonus reason: Culture
The cumulative effect of these three organizational problems is lost faith in the process. Managers feel like they don’t have the resources and power to drive change and be effective. Employees feel like the company is doing little to nothing to truly protect them from the risk in their day-to-day job requirements.
Managers losing faith in their ability to impact change and employees losing faith in their ability to safely perform their job Is devastating to culture. Each day that goes by with mismanaged musculoskeletal health strikes another blow to the culture.
There is a better way
Does the narrative described above sound familiar? Whether your organization suffers from one or all the reasons above, there is hope because there is a better way.
This post is the second installment in a new series on musculoskeletal health management.
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See you next week!