Employer support essential on musculoskeletal issues

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) account for 50% of all workplace absences lasting more than three days in Europe, according to research by The Work Foundation for Fit for Work Europe.

The Fit for work patient survey, found that two-thirds of people living with MSDs are primary earners in their families, yet many cannot return to work because of a lack of workplace adjustments offered by employers.

The report demonstrated the impact of MSDs on workers in Belgium, Bulgaria, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and the UK.

It also found:

  • Almost 40% of respondents said the condition has had an impact on their earnings.
  • 92% sometimes go to work despite feeling unwell due to their condition.
  • An individual who has been off work for six months or longer is 80% more likely to be out of work for five years.
  • Over 65% said their condition had an impact on their decision to retire early.

Stephen Bevan, director at The Work Foundation and co-founding president of Fit for Work Europe, said: “The support available to individuals with musculoskeletal disorders is often insufficient to keep them in work, and some healthcare practitioners lack the appropriate experience and training to diagnose conditions early enough.  

“The majority of those working with a musculoskeletal disorder surveyed cite managing symptoms and maintaining work performance levels as their top concerns in the workplace. 

“It is clear we need healthcare professionals, employers and policymakers collaborating to better support people with musculoskeletal disorders who are willing and able to work.”

Fit for Work Europe is calling for joint engagement at national and European level between social welfare, healthcare and national agencies and departments.

The report makes a series of recommendations for policymakers, employers, healthcare professionals and people working with MSDs.

Its recommendations for employers include: improving policies around staff retention and return to work; training managers to identify early symptoms of MSDs; referring individuals to appropriate specialists; working together with employees to discuss how working conditions can be adapted to better support them to be productive, and create an environment in which employee knowledge and experience are taken into consideration.

Antoniya Parvanova, member of European Parliament and Fit for Work Europe co-founding president, said: “It is clear that the lack of prevention, early intervention and appropriate management of MSDs in clinical and workplace settings undermine the work productivity of millions of Europeans who want to work.

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“Moreover, sub-optimal standards of care for MSDs increase the risk of worsening the health of these individuals and has a large impact on households and society.

“Swift action is required to develop and implement policy decisions at national level that take into consideration the benefits to society of greater prevention and early interventions across healthcare and welfare systems. This report confirms that investment in health can offset the burden of unnecessarily early retirement and disability in the long term.”