Musculo-skeletal disorders account for around 40 per cent of overall sickness absence in the NHS, and in many cases become long term absences.

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All you need to know in 30 seconds

  • Musculo-skeletal Disorders (MSDs) include back, arm and neck pains and diseases of the joints.
  • MSDs account for around 40 per cent of NHS staff sickness absence, and often become long term absences.
  • MSDs can be caused by work-related injuries, such as incorrect handling techniques or not having the correct equipment.
  • Refer the absent employee immediately to further support to hasten their recovery and prevent a potential long term absence. Early intervention can make a big difference.
  • Further support includes any rapid access service your organisation has, as well as occupational health, physiotherapy and counselling.
  • Review risk assessments in your department regularly, find out your organisation’s policies on MSDs and any rapid access treatments available for your employees.
  • When an employee shows signs of recovery, consider therapeutic or phased return to work, reasonable adjustments, and alternative work or redeployment where possible. 

All you need to know in detail

Musculo-skeletal Disorders (MSDs) include back pain, arm or neck strains and diseases of the joints. MSDs can affect all parts of the workforce, and can be caused by work-related injuries, such as incorrect handling techniques or not having equipment personally adjusted for the employee. 

In order to effectively manage MSDs, organisations are advised to have a MSD policy which is implemented, reviewed, updated and made available to all staff. As a manager, you play a key role in providing support to employees as you are the first point of contact when they experience difficulties which may affect their work and wellbeing.

Early intervention can make a big difference in shortening the employee’s recovery time and preventing a potential long term absence. Rapid access services can provide prompt support to staff (for example physiotherapy services) in order for them to return to work. These services may be available to staff through referral by you, the occupational health department or through self-referral systems which many organisations now operate. Make sure you are aware of any rapid access services that are available in your organisation.

To help prevent work-related MSDs and long term absences: 

  • encourage your staff and their safety representatives to tell you when MSDs start to develop
  • review your risk assessments regularly and when necessary
  • regularly check the accident book and sickness absence records
  • respond promptly when someone reports a MSD
  • have information and advice on MSDs on hand
  • learn about any rapid access services available
  • use all available information to identify measures that will enable you to reduce the risk to employees and others
  • arrange modified working when necessary (rehabilitation and redeployment) to help people stay at work until they are fit to resume their usual job.

When managing employees with MSDs, you may become involved in helping to rehabilitate and redeploy staff. This could include:

  • helping staff to access rapid access services such as occupational therapy, physiotherapy and counselling
  • designing return to work plans including therapeutic return and phased return
  • making reasonable adjustments for staff
  • redeploying staff if it is not possible for them to resume their original role.

Getting your employee back to work sooner will benefit both them and the organisation, and in many cases help speed up their recovery.