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MSK at Work Network

Good musculoskeletal (MSK) health is integral to a full working life. SOM and Versus Arthritis worked together in 2023 to survey workplace health professionals and put together the findings in the report 'Identifying work-related training and resources for workplace professionals'. This MSK Health Toolkit for employers and further education institutions from SOM, the British Society for Rheumatology and the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities was launched in October 2022. There is also a toolkit for employers on MSK issues here, a 'Be MSK Aware' flyer here, and the HSE has useful resources here. See also HSE's online digital MSD Online Assessment Tool - useful to employers who have a legal duty to perform risk assessments - here. Click here to view an excellent presentation on OH physiotherapy for NHS staff from Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (we have permission to share) and here for a briefing pack for managers so they are educated regarding managing MSK issues, from Leeds and York Partnership NHS Trust. Click here to read our blog by Bespoke Wellbeing: Managing MSK when working from home. The SOM and the Association of Anaesthetists have produced guidelines on Better musculoskeletal health for anaesthetists - these can be downloaded here. Do also have a look at An employer's guide to rheumatoid arthritis and I want to work. A further brief on MSK at work is below. 

The MSK at Work Network

This was established in 2019 and hosted by SOM, it aims to keep workers healthy via advocacy to: 

  • Policy makers (e.g. to mandate MSK at work strategies to support employees); 
  • Employers (e.g. to put in place MSK at work action linked with general work and health activities for employees); 
  • Health professionals (e.g. to ensure MSK at work is part of practice with patients) and 
  • Academics (e.g. to communicate MSK at work research and identify gaps).

Members of the Network include representatives from Charities (such as Versus Arthritis and NRAS), professional bodies and networks (such as the Council for Work and Health, the Health and Safety Executive, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, and the Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Alliance), organisations such as The Work Foundation, the Institute of Occupational Medicine and Universities (including Cardiff, Coventry, Manchester and Southampton).

In 2024, there was a debate on MSK at work and an article published in parliament news on the issue.

If you would like to attend or join the Network or would like further details including minutes of previous meetings, please contact the SOM

MSK at work brief

Musculoskeletal health is integral to being able to work at all ages. It supports us with functional mobility and dexterity, balance and co-ordination, and contributes to muscular strength and endurance; essential to nearly all forms of work. It also enables us to stay physically and mentally fit and reduce the occurrence of other health problems. Poor MSK health affects all industries and business sectors, from construction to banking. These conditions become more common as people age when many will face not just this but several other health problems. MSK problems are a common cause of a person’s inability to work. Many suffer without complaining as their job depends on being physically capable. The impact of MSK problems on work is predicted to increase and will be a challenge with people working into older ages. MSK conditions and mental health problems are the greatest causes of work loss and are often interrelated. Chronic, disabling pain and ongoing MSK problems can be associated with depression and/or stress, leading to increased absence from work. Around three in 10 people of working age who have a musculoskeletal condition also have depression. People with a mental health problem alongside a musculoskeletal condition are less likely to be in work.  

The Health & Safety Executive state that 473,000 workers suffered from work-related musculoskeletal risk in 2022/23, with an associated 6.6 millioin working days lost. MSK conditions are the second most common cause of sickness absence, accounting for over 28 million days lost in work (22.4% of total sickness absence), surpassed only by absence due to minor illness such as cough and colds. Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) can be disproportionately affected through the loss of key staff for any period of time because of MSK ill-health. For most people being in ‘good work’ - having a secure job with good working conditions - is good for personal health, organisational productivity and economic prosperity. Having a job can also contribute significantly to boosting self-esteem. Employers and employees have a critical role in how the workplace can play in promoting health and wellbeing. There is also a lot that can be done in the workplace to reduce any threats to MSK health, including adapting physical environments and work practices, as well as early interventions to identify and address problems.

MSK conditions commonly affect people’s ability to work, by causing them to be less productive, although still in work (presenteeism); to take sick leave, often for long periods (absenteeism); or to leave the workplace prematurely (work disabled). Back, neck, muscle and joint conditions are one of the most common reasons why employees need time off work or are unable to fulfil their duties to the best of their abilities. Discomfort and pain can cause mental as well as physical distress. Often the condition becomes aggravated because an employee feels unable to discuss it openly with a line manager.