RobYeldham-nlby Rob Yeldham, Director of Strategy, Policy & Engagement for the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.

Musculoskeletal disorders are the largest cause of disability in the UK. Some conditions may be caused by, or exasperated by, work. Others are not work related but impact on the ability of people to work. Only around six in ten working age people with an MSK are in work. Many people with arthritis are hiding their condition at work for fear of their employer’s reaction. So how can we support people working and managing MSDs?

Many ARMA members are already engaging employers and policy makers to address these issues. The Government’s fit for work agenda has provided an impetus for this. ARMA has produced a positon paper on work in response. But can we do more with employers and working people themselves?

Good employers are already investing in occupational health services to address MSK conditions. For example, NHS England’s Commissioning for Quality and Innovation (CQUIN) scheme funds NHS employers to provide physiotherapy to address MSK problems amongst NHS staff. The 2015 NHS staff survey reported that 25 per cent of NHS staff had experienced work related MSK issues in the previous 12 months.

But what about working people themselves? A largely untapped resource for supporting working people with MSK conditions are trade unions. They exist to support their members at work. They are not just about pay. One possible source of help could be union health and safety reps. Health and safety reps can conduct safety audits, advise people and raise issue of concern with employers. Should we be offering advice and information on avoiding and managing MSDs to unions to include in their guidance for reps?

Most unions work in partnership with employers. Where good partnership arrangements are in place unions can encourage employers to adopt policies that support staff with MSDs. Unions can also influence what occupational health support is available for staff with MSK conditions. But do unions known about the scale of the challenges their members may be facing at work because of MSDs?

The CSP is taking a motion on hidden disability at work to the TUC Congress this month. They are specifically highlighting arthritis in this context. But have we done enough to educate unions about the issues their members face in relation to MSDs and how this impacts on the productivity of firms and public services?


The CSP is the trade union and professional body for physiotherapists and physiotherapy support staff in the UK, Channel Islands and Isle of Man.


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