Working With Arthritis – What Health And Safety Teams Need To Know

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Working with a long-term condition can be difficult for those experiencing symptoms such as pain, inflammation, and fatigue.

For people working with arthritis, reasonable adjustments may need to be made so they can continue doing their job effectively.

Key Points:

  • A lifelong condition, arthritis can be extremely painful, and even debilitating. Every individual case is unique, so symptoms differ from person to person
  • Jobs that involve manual handling can make arthritis worse. Lifting and carrying, even if it involves carrying paper to the photocopier, can also aggravate arthritis symptoms
  • The Access to Work scheme can provide financial assistance and practical help to your employees so they can continue doing their job effectively

What is arthritis?

The NHS defines arthritis as:

“a common condition that causes pain and inflammation in a joint.”

There are many different types of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis which is the most common form in the UK, and rheumatoid arthritis which is classed as an auto-immune disease.

Contrary to popular belief, arthritis doesn’t just affect the older generation. It can actually affect people of any age, including children who can be diagnosed with juvenile arthritis.

A lifelong condition, arthritis can be extremely painful, and even debilitating. Every individual case is unique, so symptoms differ from person to person.

Conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis are prevalent in people aged between 40-60 in the UK. Since these people are still working, they may be battling with symptoms every day in their jobs.

What workplace factors can make arthritis worse?

Jobs that involve manual handling can make arthritis worse. Lifting and carrying, even if it involves carrying paper to the photocopier, can also aggravate arthritis symptoms.

Repetitive motions and standing or sitting for long periods can also lead to flare-ups.

As an example, a hairdresser who makes repetitive motions with their scissors may find arthritis in their hands is causing them more pain. Arthritis can also make it difficult to grip items so the hairdresser’s employer might have to find a product that works for her and eases her symptoms.

Employers should always be looking for ways to make people’s lives easier, whether it’s making reasonable adjustments or discussing how a job role can be altered,” says TSW Training’s Head of Health and Safety, Luke Pitt. “It’s so important that individual needs are met, and the person with arthritis is included in the conversation so you can get the best possible results for them.

What legal protection do people with arthritis have at work?

If somebody is classed as disabled, they are automatically protected by the Equality Act at work.

However, if somebody isn’t officially classed as disabled, but their condition meets the Equality Act’s criteria of a disability, they are still protected against discrimination.

The Equality Act’s definition covers substantial, long-term physical and mental impairments, as well as recurring and fluctuating conditions such as arthritis.

This means that employers cannot discriminate against those suffering from arthritis.

How can companies support and help people suffering with it?

There are lots of ways that companies can support people with arthritis in their business. Here are just a few:

#1. Increase your knowledge of arthritis and get to understand the individual needs of those working within your business, especially if somebody has been newly diagnosed

#2. Be flexible and enable people to work from home where possible, particularly if they suffer from unexpected flare-ups

#3. Allow leave (separate from sick leave) for people to have doctor appointments and/or surgery. A GP’s ‘Fit for Work’ note can offer advice on things like a phased return to work, changes in work duties or adaptations that may be needed in the workplace

#4. Keep communication lines open so you can support anyone with arthritis as much as possible, focusing on what they need

#5. Regular review meetings can help to improve communication and allows managers to check if there’s anything more that can be done to support

#6. Review working hours so anyone with arthritis can avoid long periods sitting in traffic, and allow them to park closer to the entrance

#7. Where necessary, see if you can accommodate a transfer to a less physical role; that could include considering coaching, mentoring, and teaching too

#8. Make sure equipment is adapted to benefit each individual’s needs such as providing ergonomic chairs, and adaptations with any necessary equipment

#9. Improve access to your premises by installing handrails and lifts, where possible

#10. Switching manual company cars to automatic transmissions can also be a big help for those who have arthritis

#11. A workplace assessment is a great place to start. An Occupational Therapist or other qualified advisor can carry this out for you, and give you advice on the best course of action

What financial support is available for people with arthritis?

The Access to Work scheme can provide financial assistance and practical help to your employees so they can continue doing their job effectively. It can help with things like adaptations to vehicles to help with the commute or providing a support worker to be on hand in the workplace.

It can also help with lots of different scenarios. However, they will not provide financial support to employers for reasonable adjustments – an employer is legally obliged to do this themselves.

Picture of Matthew Channell
Matthew Channell
Matthew is TSW Training’s Commercial Director. He writes about performance focussed learning, leadership, and management approaches that have real-world, sustainable impact.
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