Safeguarding therapists health

The term ‘beauty therapy’ summons images of indulgence, relaxation and positive transformation. At least it does for those clients taking advantage of the wide range of beauty treatments, products and services available these days. But what about you and your staff – the hard working beauty therapists providing all that pampering? Is it as good for you as it is for them? Injury statistics indicate not. Trainees in the industry begin with a high degree of enthusiasm and the expectation that beauty therapy will become a lifelong career. Most go on to realise that potential, but some have difficulty coping, or even continuing, in their profession of choice. Traditionally, humans were hunters and gatherers, and performed a wide variety of physical activities, from running to climbing trees. Now, most jobs are made up of repetitive or sedentary tasks, and we are constantly asking our bodies to engage in activities they were not designed to do. That, compounded by factors such as stress and an increasingly ageing population, contributes to the incidence of pain and injury in the workplace. Risks common to the beauty therapy industry include ergonomics, equipment usage and physically demanding or repetitive tasks. Rebecca Bunyar, director of Exhale Skin & Massage, a small business specialising in massage and skin treatments, had some concerns when entering the profession three years ago. “When I first started”, she says, “I wondered how my fingers and wrists would handle getting through a whole day. They got so sore.” Over time, Rebecca’s hands and wrists have strengthened and they no longer cause her pain. “But I do have ongoing issues with my back, from working in awkward positions doing electrolysis and massage”, she says, “especially with close-up follicle work and knuckling.” To counteract these symptoms, Rebecca concentrates on good posture while working. She also sees a chiropractor once a week to alleviate any pain and prevent musculoskeletal disorders. What are Musculoskeletal Disorders? Musculoskeletal disorders were formerly called OOS (occupational overuse syndrome), RSI (repetitive strain injury), or carpal tunnel syndrome. Whatever the label, they result in absenteeism, loss of productivity or the inability of a valued employee to continue working in the beauty care industry. Discomfort is the body’s early warning signal. By the time you experience acute pain, damage has likely occurred and you may be at risk of developing a musculoskeletal disorder. Symptoms to watch out for include sore necks, shoulders, back, legs, elbows, wrists, hands or fingers. Why do they occur? Musculoskeletal disorders are usually due to wear or tear – of the joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles or discs. Beauty therapy roles most likely to cause MSDs are those involving awkward or static positions, repetitive movements, or physically demanding tasks. If there is insufficient recovery time between tasks, muscle fatigue will lead to inflammation and, eventually, to tissue damage. MSDs are more likely to occur if this cycle is ongoing, over time. Common risk factors include: • Postural: awkward or cramped positions held for extended periods. • Repetitive movements: especially those requiring excessive force. • Load handling: supporting weight with your arms away from the body increases stress to the back and shoulders. • Tool and equipment usage: especially if heavy or awkward to handle, and if vibration is an issue. • Work organisation: long shifts, infrequent breaks, lack of task variation. • Workstation or area design: including chairs, tables, computer setup. • Individual factors: age, illness or pre-existing conditions or injuries. What should an employer do? ‘No pain; no gain’ is a common refrain, but it should not apply to muscular pain attributable to work. In New Zealand, the Health and Safety in Employment (HSE) Act says that you, as the employer, must take ‘all practicable steps’ to provide a safe and healthy workplace. So how can you, as a responsible employer, keep your staff pain- and injury-free while maintaining the competitive edge? Helena Carter, director of INBODY Health Clinic & Spa, says she is always at the clinic, so has an opportunity to act promptly to address any musculoskeletal issues that arise. Helena says her employees do not complain as a rule, and she appreciates it when they let her know if they are experiencing any pain. "We have never had any serious problems or workplace injuries", she says, "but staff do sometimes report lower back pain to me in passing. In this job they are constantly adjusting or leaning over beds, doing leg waxing or working on repetitive tasks. “I’m also prone to neck and back strain myself,” she confides, “from being hunched over a computer all day. A family member has also had similar symptoms that we were able to help him with." Early reporting and treatment is the key to preventing MSDs. Helena responds to risks and makes changes to processes or equipment when and where necessary. "We're careful to provide staff with the tools they need, whether it be a new bed or something to stand on to make the job easier." INBODY employees also have access to the infrared sauna, which relaxes muscles and increases circulation, and the Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) machine for muscle aches and pains. "I would growl at them if they were to hurt themselves needlessly," Helena says, "and I remind them that we don't want any industrial accidents here. If there is a heavy job to do, we all get together and pitch in to get it done.” How to prevent MSDs How can you anticipate workplace injuries waiting to happen and prevent them from becoming musculoskeletal injury claims? By performing risk assessments. It’s not rocket science; common sense is all that is required for most, and routine assessments need not affect your profit margin. You have to uncover any potential risks and then remove or reduce them as much as is practical. If you do not have a formal risk assessment process in place already, start by becoming aware of issues on a day-to-day basis. • Take a close look at the job tasks performed in each area or service and decide which, if any, pose a risk. • Develop some solutions – or controls – for each risk. • Start eliminating, isolating workers from, or minimising the risks. • Keep a documented record of this process and review it regularly to ensure your controls are effective. The HSE Act stipulates employee participation in managing health and safety, so ask your staff what problems they encounter or anticipate, then work together to brainstorm solutions. It may be as simple as encouraging regular breaks, re-rostering, or relocating a piece of equipment or furniture. Elimination might involve getting rid of that awkward old piece of equipment and updating it with a more ergonomic model. Staff cannot be isolated from their roles, but examples of minimisation would include training them in preventative techniques, job rotation, or encouraging micropauses during longer or more static procedures. For more complicated problems, consider hiring an occupational therapist for an expert opinion and practical recommendations. This may save you time and money in the long run, if you take into account the potential for loss of productivity, absenteeism or losing a valued staff member. Personal responsibility The HSE Act also stipulates that employees take ‘all practicable steps’ to ensure their safety by reporting hazards and communicating health issues. Alison Richmond, Director of Provention – an injury prevention consultancy – provides an innovative approach to workplace training and musculoskeletal health programmes. According to Alison, employees can help prevent MSDs by learning safer ways of moving and performing their daily job tasks. “Although the onus is on the employer to eliminate or reduce risks”, says Alison, “you should encourage employees to take personal responsibility by getting in touch with their ‘physical intelligence’.” What is physical intelligence? A physically intelligent person displays the following characteristics: • They listen to their body’s early warning signs and as soon as they experience discomfort they change how they move and use their bodies. • They use a variety of movement options to adapt to various job tasks and working environments. • They take appropriate rest breaks and micro pauses to allow their muscles time to recover. • They take responsibility for their own well-being, and use movement or exercise to counteract the long-term effects of repetitive, awkward or stationary tasks. • They move the way young children do, i.e. when they bend forward or crouch, they counteract by pushing their buttocks back to maintain stability and strength. Why do some people experience pain and not others? According to Alison, it is not just a matter of luck. “You need to determine if it is an overuse issue or a ‘personal misuse’ issue,” she advises. “Pain doesn’t just come up and bite you on the butt and say ‘it’s your turn today to have a sore back or wrist’. Whether you experience discomfort or pain depends on how you interact with your work environment and carry out job tasks. If you watch the uninjured, physically intelligent person, interesting observations come to light. The physically intelligent person doesn’t necessarily follow traditional rules like keeping the back straight while bending at the knees, because it doesn’t work for them.” Employees are not always comfortable fronting up to management about early pain or discomfort, for fear of reproach or of compromising their jobs. You can make it easier for them, and for yourself, by conducting a simple ‘pain survey’, with the assurance that it will be used for preventative and staff retention purposes. ACC has developed a user-friendly questionnaire that will highlight symptoms experienced by staff in the short and long term, and prompts them to feed back probable causes. You can print it out and distribute it to staff to collect valuable feedback on the risks they perceive and then work together to solve any issues that arise. You can also take it a step further and add an element of fun, by developing a system that recognises and rewards innovative suggestions. It doesn’t have to be elaborate – being named in the newsletter or on the bulletin board, a movie ticket, or even a chocolate fish for the best idea will encourage employees to participate. This keeps up the interest level and creates staff buy-in. Undoing the damage Regular stretches, exercise and movement are effective methods for reducing injuries. Alison recommends engaging in daily exercise, and Provention has developed a Stretch for Life programme that can be integrated into the normal working day. “We explore options and strategies for individuals to manage their own well-being, rather than a standard set of rules which may not work in real life situations or apply to everyone”, she says. “While based on sound physiological science, the key is to make sure people have the tools to make safe decisions in changing environments. This encourages ownership and long term behavioural change, which is vital for lasting results.” ACC also provides a range of free publications and resources to help reduce the incidence and severity of injuries and to promote a safety culture both in, and outside, the workplace. The ACC website includes information on the prevention and management of discomfort, pain and injury (DPI), including a HabitatAtWork section with smart tips and animated exercises that you can watch and learn online. Whether you contract a trainer, or take a ‘do it yourself’ approach, prevention-focused training is well worth the time and effort. There tends to be a spin-off effect as well, as the information and strategies gained in the workplace filter home to benefit other family members. Injury prevention is a win-win situation. Employees who keep fit and active outside work are more likely to take measures to stay healthy at work, and are less likely to succumb to injuries and musculoskeletal disorders. Employers who keep a finger on the pulse, and respond quickly to musculoskeletal issues, benefit from increased motivation, productivity and lower rates of absenteeism and injury claims. They also tend to stay healthier, and are less stressed themselves when the focus is on prevention rather than waiting for the ‘ambulance at the bottom of the cliff’ to occur.

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