The Equality Act
This information has been prepared to assist MU Safety Reps when dealing with specific illnesses in the workplace covered under the Equality Act 2010 (EA) as it applies to the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 (DDA). Since 1996, the DDA has required employers not to discriminate against employees or job applicants with disabilities and to make 'reasonable adjustments' to allow them to carry on working or take up new posts. The EA 2010 came into force in October of that year. It replaced most of the DDA. However, the Disability Equality Duty in the DDA continues to apply. Like the DDA 2005, the EA 2010 covers forms of disability that are not ‘clinically well recognised’, including cancer, HIV and more forms of mental impairment.
Employers must now take account of conditions ranging from stress-related illness to less well-known mental health conditions (such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and extreme phobia) plus more commonly recognised illnesses including bipolar disorder and such psychoses as schizophrenia. Employees' or applicants' mental impairments need to be long-term, lasting or likely to last more than 12 months and must affect the individual's ability to carry out day-to-day activities.
The EA in practice
The EA defines a disabled person as someone who has a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his/her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, although there are some special rules that cover recurring or fluctuating conditions.
Anyone who is certified blind or partially sighted; suffering from cancer; HIV infection or multiple sclerosis does not have to show that they have an impairment that has or is likely to result in a substantial adverse, long-term effect on the ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. A disability can arise from a wide range of impairments, such as:
- Sensory impairments e.g. those affecting sight or hearing
- Impairments with fluctuating or recurring effects such as rheumatoid arthritis, myalgic encephalitis (ME)/chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), fibromyalgia, depression and epilepsy
- Organ specific impairments including such respiratory conditions as asthma through to cardiovascular diseases including thrombosis, stroke and heart conditions
- Mental health conditions and mental illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia, eating disorders, bipolar affective disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders plus personality disorders and some self-harming behaviour
The EA also recognises that environmental conditions may exacerbate the effect of impairment. Such factors as the temperature, humidity, lighting, the time of day or night, how tired a person is or how much stress he/she is under could have an impact.
- MIND (National Association for Mental Health): mind.org.uk
- Department for Work and Pensions (DWP): dwp.gov.uk/employers/dda
- TUC Know Your Rights Line: 08700 600 4882
- ACAS Helpline: 08457 474747
- Equality and Human Rights Commission: equalityhumanrights.com
- Employers' Forum on Disability: efd.org.uk
Over/misuse injuries (RSI)
The term Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is not, in itself, a medical diagnosis. The term RSI is used to incorrectly describe a number of named musculoskeletal conditions including tenosynovitis, cramp of the hand and tendonitis. In addition, the term 'diffuse RSI' is also in common usage but is more difficult to define.
Whether described as RSI or 'diffuse RSI', these conditions and injuries may be occupational in origin. Therefore, Repetitive Strain Injury is a term similar to that of 'sports injury' in that it tells more about how the injury was sustained than describes what it actually is. RSI conditions occur in upper or lower limbs and affect various areas of the spine which, in turn, can cause referred pain in the limbs, making diagnosis difficult. Symptoms of numbness, tingling, sharp pain, dull ache, weakness, loss of grip and restricted movement of limbs can render people incapable of carrying out the simplest of tasks, whether at home or in the workplace. Unsurprisingly, the lack of accurate diagnosis and access to appropriate treatment often further exacerbates the condition.
Repetition: The use of fast, frequent movements for prolonged periods. Repetition for prolonged periods may not allow sufficient time for recovery and can cause muscle fatigue, owing to the depletion of energy and a build-up of metabolic waste. The repeated loading of joints and soft tissues may be associated with inflammation.
Working posture: Poor postures can increase the risk of injury when they are awkward and/or held for prolonged periods in a static or fixed position.
Awkward postures: These occur when a body part is used well beyond its neutral position (for example, where the wrist is held in a reasonably straight position). When awkward postures are adopted, additional muscular effort is needed to maintain body positions as muscles are less efficient at the extremes of the joint range. The resulting friction and compression of soft tissues structures can also lead to injury.
Static postures: These occur when a part of the body is held in a particular position for extended periods without the soft tissues being allowed to relax. For example, when holding an instrument it is likely that the hands and arms are in a static posture. Muscles held in static postures quickly develop fatigue.
Duration of exposure: The length of time that any task is performed for. It is presumed that the majority of musculoskeletal disorders are cumulative in nature and that the risk of injury increases with lengthier exposure times. This is because when parts of the body undertake work for periods without rest, there may be insufficient time for recovery. Planning work-rest cycles is important for all musicians.
- The first stage is knowing when and where you are in danger
- Each instrument has its own risk set; be sure you know yours
- Establish a set of proper performance habits
- Maintain correct posture
- Examine and adjust your technique
- Develop warm-up and stretching routines in order to increase your muscle stamina
Health maintenance: You can go a long way towards preventing injury by taking a proactive role in your health. Even the safest musicians will feel the strain of a busy schedule clawing them into a state of near exhaustion and may try medications that are largely ineffective and may be unsafe. A balanced diet will improve your body's natural ability to generate energy and function at peak performance levels. By making a few changes in your diet, you can safeguard against injury and fatigue.