The painful truth behind work-related musculoskeletal disorders | ToughBuilt

The painful truth behind work-related musculoskeletal disorders | ToughBuilt

Last year almost 500,000 workers across the UK suffered from work-related musculoskeletal disorders, with conditions involving the lower limbs the third most common. As part of its #KneelSmartKneelSafe campaign, ToughBuilt discovers the human stories behind this worrying statistic.

When we started our #KneelSmartKneelSafe campaign, we did so with our eyes open” explains Vahe Der Kureghian, ToughBuilt’s European Managing Director. “As a leading manufacturer of knee pads, offering one of the largest selections of CE and UKCA marked products on the market, ToughBuilt knows better than most about the devastating consequences of work-related knee conditions.

“In fact, it was this understanding that led to #KneelSmartKneelSafe in the first place. We felt we had a duty of care to protect people by sharing our knowledge and raising awareness of just how grave the issue is. Safety boots, glasses, gloves, and helmets are all compulsory PPE on the jobsite, but knee pads are often overlooked. At ToughBuilt, we’re on a mission to change that.”

He continues: “We’ve been shocked by the accounts of people for whom our efforts have come too late. Individuals from many different professions have reached out to us via social media to express their support for the campaign and to share their stories in the hope that they can be used to safeguard others.”


Lost workdays and careers

One of the individuals to get in touch is Adrian – an electrician based in South West England. Having started out in his chosen profession at 16, he, like many other electricians, has spent a considerable amount of time on his knees.

After ten years, the need for frequent kneeling began to take its toll and Adrian started suffering from knee pain. Worse was to come, when, after a prolonged period of kneeling to fit underfloor heating, he developed prepatellar bursitis.

This condition, which is often caused by repetitive kneeling, affects the prepatellar bursa – a fluid-filled sac, which sits in front of the kneecap. Its purpose is to provide cushioning and protection but if it is subjected to too much pressure, it produces more fluid to protect the knee and starts to swell, causing excruciating pain.

In Adrian’s case, the prepatellar bursa on his right leg swelled to the size of a cricket ball and he was forced to take three weeks off work. Since then, he has suffered from flare-ups repeatedly and he struggles to put pressure on his right knee, either at work or at home when playing with his children. He has been told by doctors that there is nothing they can do for him.

His advice to anyone embarking on a career where kneeling is commonplace is to start using knee protection as soon as possible. Adrian’s experience shows that if you wait until your knees start to hurt, it’s already too late.

A common story

Adrian’s story is worrying and even more so because it’s not unique. ToughBuilt has also heard from Neil who has been living with work-related knee problems for more than a decade.

Neil, who is an electrician like Adrian, began his career as an apprentice. By the time he reached his twenties, he started suffering pain and discomfort in his knee which doctors diagnosed as being caused by repetitive kneeling, unprotected, on hard surfaces like joists.

In many cases with knee conditions, prevention is better than cure, and again, there was little medical staff could do for him. The damage was irreversible and was due to early and excessive ‘wear and tear’. Neil was prescribed medication to deal with the immediate swelling but longer term, the pain he now feels when kneeling has had to become a fact of life.

Based on his own painful experience, Neil firmly advocates the use of good quality knee pads and is keen to warn against the dangers of being complacent and believing that either your knees are indestructible or that work-related knee problems won’t happen to you.

The uncomfortable facts

“ToughBuilt’s engagement with different trade professionals as part of its #KneelSmartKneelSafe campaign has revealed that one of the biggest reasons why knee pads aren’t worn as widely as they should be, isn’t just down to a lack of awareness” explains Vahe. “It’s also because of a perceived lack of comfort.

“Often, the discomfort from wearing ill-fitting, softly padded or poorly designed knee pads can be worse than that from kneeling on a hard surface so it’s not surprising that some individuals opt for what feels like the lesser of two evils.”

In fact, many of those that ToughBuilt has spoken to have highlighted how the knee pads they’ve used in the past slipped down their legs and became more like shin pads. They could only avoid this by tightening the straps so tightly that it was painful or reduced their circulation.

ToughBuilt has also received repeated feedback that knee pads can often lack versatility and can be cumbersome for that ‘quick’ job or when switching between different tasks or work environments.

Through its #KneelSmartKneelSafe campaign, the company is hoping to address some of these concerns. As an example, ToughBuilt’s GelFit Fanatic Thigh Support Knee Pads have been purposely designed to offer all day kneeling comfort. Their ergonomic gel and foam design embraces the natural shape of the knee and upper shin, maximising pressure distribution for an extremely comfortable all-day fit.

‘Kneesy’ does it

To address the issue of potential circulation cut-off, this knee pad utilises a double, adjustable, soft strap, which sits comfortably above and below the knee and locks the knee pad firmly in place, stopping it from falling down the knee.

Its ergonomic design also helps alleviate pressure on the shins and feet whilst kneeling, by encouraging users to stay upright and balanced, and comfortably allows side-to-side rocking.

Similarly, the GelFit SnapShell Knee Pad System – which was commended for Product Innovation and as a Safety Solution at the 2022 British Safety Industry Federation Awards – uses patented technology to offer complete flexibility.

The SnapShell at the front of the pad is interchangeable and provides the freedom to quickly tailor knee pads to suit different tasks and work environments. Three types of SnapShell are available – Non-Marring for delicate flooring, Rockers for use on rough terrain and Stablisers to keep you stationary on the ground. The pads can also be used without the SnapShells.

Concluding, Vahe adds: “In order to show the trade how knee pads can be used safely, comfortably and conveniently, ToughBuilt’s activity under #KneelSmartKneelSafe continues to employ various methods – from articles like this one to ongoing collaborations with social media influencers.

“Our efforts remain tireless. Why? Because if we can help just one person to avoid the agonising consequences endured by Adrian and Neil, then our focus and determination will have been worthwhile.”

Browse the ToughBuilt GelFit Knee Pads product information page here

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