Early intervention of MSDs could reduce sickness absence

A report commissioned by The Work Foundation has revealed that more than 35 million days are lost each year in the UK due to sickness absence. However, the it found that, if musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) were tackled earlier, an extra 600,000 employees could be at work.

The report also revealed that around 45 million employees across the EU have MSDs, including back pain and strains of the neck, shoulder and arms, costing up to £202.6m annually in lost productivity and sickness absence.

Commenting on the potential of an early intervention trial for 13,000 workers in Spain, which reduced absence rates by 39%, being used across the rest of Europe,Director at the Work Foundation, Stephen Bevan, said:

“Our analysis now shows that, because access to early health care interventions for workers with MSDs are not being prioritised, thousands are taking unnecessarily long periods away from work or even leaving work permanently when tried-and-tested tactics could be helping to speed up their recovery and return to work.

“If these results were repeated across the whole of the EU, we estimate that up to one million workers would be available to work each day. This would be a considerable boost to productivity and significantly reduce sick pay bills at a time when member states are under pressure to make savings and increase economic growth and to tackle unemployment and under-employment.”

He continued:

“Even if the reduction in absence achieved were 25% rather than 39%, we estimate that in excess of 640,000 workers would be available for work each day.”

Dame Carol Black, Co-President of Fit for Work, also said:

“In the UK, 300,000 people make long-term sickness absence claims each year. The results from the Spanish study reveal just how important early intervention is for people with MSDs.

“The study shows that permanent work disability fell by 50%, while temporary work absence fell by 39%, a vast improvement. We know that work is vital for people’s sense of self-worth, and has huge benefits for individuals as well as for the economy.”

“With sickness absence currently costing the UK economy £15bn, the benefits of early intervention must be taken seriously by all stakeholders and woven into Government policies.”