• Lee Calver
  • 9 September 2014

Employers not doing enough for staff with musculoskeletal disorders

According to a new report released last week, employers, the Government and the NHS are failing to provide sufficient support for people with chronic musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) to help them stay in work.

The report, which was produced by Lancaster University’s Work Foundation and the Fit for Work UK Coalition, also stated that some patients are putting their health at risk in order to hold onto their jobs.

It has been reported that Britain is currently losing 30.5 million working days a year to MSDs, which according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), are the leading cause of sickness absence.

‘Self-management of chronic musculoskeletal disorders and employment’ explains that employers, in particular small organisations, have little knowledge about Government schemes such as Access to Work and are inadequately prepared to cope with chronic conditions in the workplace.

According to the report, many workers are reluctant to ask for help from their line managers for fear of stigma, negative judgement and job loss, while others said they had to involve their union to obtain the required support or even move into self-employment.

Revealing findings from the interviews conducted, the report warns that unless action is taken, individuals’ health conditions and quality of life will continue to deteriorate due to work, with some leaving the labour market prematurely. It adds that the consequences of the current situation are an increase in productivity loss, sickness absence and, ultimately, the welfare bill.

Commenting on the findings, Kate Summers, Research Officer at The Work Foundation, said:

“Individuals with chronic MSDs will go to great lengths to remain in work. They will give up aspects of their family and social life, and they will even take roles below their skill set.

“This is because work can bring many benefits – be they financial, psychological or social. These benefits are undermined in individuals are working in an environment that is not good for their health.”

Offering solutions and ways to make changes for the better, the report provides the following four key recommendations:

  1. The Government should increase participation to initiatives such as Access to Work and should also provide extra assistance for employees working in small and medium enterprises.
  2. The Government should also ensure that work is viewed as a ‘clinical outcome’ by clinicians and invest in more specialist nurse roles.
  3. Employers should consider all necessary workplace adjustments and offer career development opportunities for people with chronic MSDs.
  4. Clinicians should view it as part of their role to ask patients about their work lives.

Looking at the recommendations specifically for employers however, the report states employers should:

  • Understand their responsibilities as an employer to people with disabilities and long-term health conditions.
  • Aim to help employees with chronic MSDs to feel a valuable and mainstream part of the workforce.
  • Educate their workforce about chronic conditions.
  • Foster career progression options for individuals with MSDs.

In light of the report being published, Sue Browning, Deputy Chief Executive, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP), said:

“We must now do everything we can to help people with chronic MSDs to stay in work and this report presents the Government, employers and individuals with positive ways to do that.

“Physiotherapists are experts at keeping people healthy in work, or facilitating a return after sickness absence, and it is very important that employers provide staff with fast access to occupational health services.”

She added:

“The CSP has been campaigning to make self-referral to physiotherapy available across the country to ensure early, effective treatment can be delivered to allow people to remain in work.”

We want to hear from employers who have employed people with MSDs and discover what you did to ensure you provided sufficient support to help them stay in work. Conversely, we would also like to hear from you if you learnt from your mistakes and have changed policies accordingly because of errors in the past.

Our latest forum discussion gives you the opportunity to discuss further. Please click here to see the latest remarks or simply comment in the box below to share your views.