Musculoskeletal disorders and mental health major causes of sickness absence

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Posted By Angelo Evangelou

25 February 2014

For immediate release: 25 February 2014 


Commenting on today's ONS report on sickness absence in the labour market, Karen Steadman, head of health and wellbeing programmes at The Work Foundation, said:

“Today’s release from the ONS shows no overall change in levels of sickness absence (131 million days) on 2011, but reveals that musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) (30.6 million days) and mental health (15.2 million days) continue to be the major causes. The rise in number of days attributed to mental health conditions (an increase of almost 2 million on 2011) may to some extent reflect reductions in stigma and better awareness of mental health conditions, but emphasises the need for better approaches to managing mental health conditions in the workplace, particularly through training, education and access to support. At the same time, evidence-based research conducted through Fit for Work Europe has shown that both temporary and permanent sickness absence related to MSDs can be reduced by 39%, and respectively 50%, provided that workers receive an intervention early enough.

“The lowest rates of sickness absence are found in SMEs – with the smallest (fewer than 25 employees) having lost just 1.7% of working hours to sickness absence (against 2.3% in the largest companies). Workers in SMEs often feel increased pressure not to be absent from work, out of concern for letting down colleagues – but the real cost of presenteeism affects long-term productivity and individual health. The recently proposed Health and Work Service promises to provide support for SMEs, but with referral to the service only occurring after four weeks of absence, and a lack of evidence about what advice and guidance would actually be of use to small organisations, there are already doubts as to how well this large part of the workforce will be served.”


Notes to editors

1. Karen Steadman, head of health and wellbeing programmes and Jenny Gulliford, policy and research officer, are both available for interviews, briefings and written comment.

2. The Work Foundation aims to be the leading independent, international authority on work and its future, influencing policy and practice for the benefit of society. The Work Foundation is part of Lancaster University – an alliance that enables both organisations to further enhance their impact.

3. Fit for Work Europe is a multi-stakeholder coalition, driving policy and practice change across the work and health agendas. We aim to deliver more investment in sustainable healthcare by promoting and implementing early intervention practices for workers with MSDs. It is led by The Work Foundation and supported by AbbVie and GE Healthcare.

Media enquiries:

Angelo Evangelou 020 7976 3597

Anna Kharbanda 020 7976 3646 

For urgent out-of-hours enquiries: 0782 552 7036

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