Impact of musculoskeletal disorders on labour market must be given higher priority by government

The government needs to give a higher priority to the impact of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) on the labour market, according to a new report from think-tank The Work Foundation.

MSDs is an umbrella term that covers more than 200 different ailments, including arthritis, back pain and damage to joints, muscles and tendons.

MSDs affect twice as many people as stress and cause 9.5 million lost working days, according to Health and Safety Executive figures.

The Fit for Work: Musculoskeletal Disorders and Labour Market Participation report argues that early intervention and an emphasis on keeping sufferers in work wherever possible are likely to boost national productivity and help reduce the 2.6 million people claiming incapacity benefit.

Michelle Mahdon, senior researcher at The Work Foundation, said: “Stress hogs headlines, but in terms of people affected, MSDs are the bigger problem, affecting more than a million people a year.

“What urgently needs to change is the attitude of many GPs and employers that an MSD sufferer must be 100% well before any return to work can be contemplated. Too many see only incapacity rather than capacity.”

The report calls for:

  • Partnerships between patient, employer and GP to achieve a balance between an individual’s need for respite and the need to work.
  • Better job design: managers can change the ways work is organised – from adjusting working time and altering task allocation, to improving ergonomics.
  • Enhanced measurement of direct and indirect costs of MSDs: much better mechanisms to assess and monitor the social and work impact of MSDs are needed.

Dame professor Carol Black, the government’s national director for health and work, welcomed the report: “I hope that, in time, MSDs will become less relevant to work and working life. Until then, efforts to raise awareness of them must continue with ever greater urgency.”

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