X-rays and musculoskeletal


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Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are one of the leading causes of long-term absence in the UK.

The Health and Safety Executive estimates over a million people are affected by MSDs each year, resulting in 11.6 million lost working days. According to 2011 research by The Work Foundation, it costs the UK £7.4 billion a year.

Northumbrian Water used to lose more than 700 days to MSD-related sickness absence every year. “Back in 2007, MSDs were the single biggest issue we faced, costing us (along with stress and mental health problems) over £1 million a year,” says group HRD Sarah Salter. So, as part of an integrated wellbeing programme, which won the BITC Workwell Award for Excellence in 2012, Northumbrian Water partnered with rehabilitation provider RehabWorks to design a programme to tackle MSDs.

Line-manager referral meant any employee could be referred for advice and treatment, and not just if they had sustained an injury at work, or one that affected their ability to do their job. “We take the view that anything that is affecting how you function physiologically could affect your work in future, so we want to help you get well,” says Salter. On-site physiotherapy, “right in the heart of the HR department”, and spotting what could be causing MSD issues (many Northumbrian Water employees have manual or technical jobs) and amending working practices accordingly has helped drive MSD-related absence down by 40%, saving the organisation £420,000. It has also reduced the company’s insurance premiums.

“If people feel well at work, they are more engaged and they give the best to our customers,” says Salter. “That’s how we tie it to business strategy. Our wellbeing strategy is linked to business performance and is key to engagement.”

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