Page last updated at 01:32 GMT, Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Back-pain help for workers urged

Office worker
Musculoskeletal problems cost the economy an estimated 7bn a year

Employers need to do more to help people with back and joint pain stay in work, experts say.

The Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Alliance called for a range of measures and rights to tackle the issue, which costs society an estimated £7bn a year.

These steps include more flexible working opportunities, extra training for managers and greater focus on what a person can do rather than cannot.

Industry representatives, experts and the government backed the demands.

More than 10m workings days are lost each year because of musculoskeletal problems, such as lower back pain, joint injuries and repetitive strain injuries.

For most people, good work is good for their health
Steve Bevan, of the Work Foundation

This, along with cost associated with treating the condition, contributes to the £7bn bill.

The government has already recognised the importance of encouraging employers to do more to improve the health of their workforce.

In 2008, a report by Dame Carol Black, the government's director for health and work, called for businesses to do more to tackle illness and promote healthy lifestyles.

But the alliance, an umbrella group representing 34 charities and health bodies including the National Osteoporosis Society, Royal College of Nursing and Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, believes more should be done to help those already suffering ill-health.

In particular, it wants to see a greater range of flexible working options and a greater emphasis on finding roles people with problems can do instead of just signing them off work.

And the group said managers should be trained in how to prevent the workplace causing problems and in finding the best ways to intervene early.

These measures are included in a charter it wants to see employers adopt.

Valuable skills

Alliance director Ros Meek said: "By taking small steps employers can help to transform the lives of people with musculoskeletal disorders and benefit their bottom line by retaining valuable skills."

The charter received the backing of the NHS, the biggest employer in the country.

Karen Charmen, head of employment services at NHS Employers, said she was "delighted" to support the charter, adding it should help employers to "understand the needs of affected employees".

Steve Bevan, managing director of the Work Foundation, said: "For most people, good work is good for their health. We support any steps which allow people with long-term or chronic health conditions to play their full part in the labour market."

The government said many of the steps recommended were already happening.

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: "We are helping employers understand what they can do to help people stay in their jobs and manage their condition and are piloting an advice line that gives employers direct access to occupational health professionals."

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