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Blanket approach to return to work will be ineffective, says IOSH

26 September 2023

A “BLANKET approach” to getting people in the UK with back problems and other musculoskeletal issues to return to work will be ineffective, according to the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH).

Responding to a pledge by Health Secretary Steve Barclay to provide support for people with back issues, IOSH said it is crucial that employers seek to provide rehabilitation and return-to-work programmes which can be tailored to individuals.

IOSH believes any Government commitment to reform occupational health provision needs to be firmly aligned with a gradual shift from businesses to provide more supportive workplaces.

Its head of policy Ruth Wilkinson said, “It’s crucial that we do more to ensure people can return to work, stay in work and thrive at work. But a blanket approach to this, one which doesn’t take account of individual differences, will simply not work.

“Employers have a huge role to play in helping individuals with health conditions transition back into the workforce. We urge them to invest in prevention, occupational rehabilitation programmes and return-to-work policies and practices which can be tailored to the needs of individuals.”

Referring to the Government’s Major Conditions Strategy, Mr Barclay highlighted that more than one in five people who are economically inactive have a musculoskeletal condition. Among the initiatives highlighted in the strategy are exercise videos for people to follow at home and community hubs for people to attend classes and get treatment without seeing a GP.

IOSH says its crucial the Government and businesses move forward in their efforts to get people back to work.

It says that while plans such as the recently announced multi-billion pound proposal to tackle inactivity and boost economic growth are welcomed, such work needs to be “good work” – meaning it’s safe, healthy, sustainable and accommodates people’s needs – and should be implemented through improved access to flexible working, occupational health services and occupational safety and health advice.

Ruth added: “This can have the twin effects of increasing inclusivity and diversity at work and helping ensure that those with health conditions and disabilities can fulfil their potential. The positive perceptions about work this can lead to have been linked with higher workforce productivity, business performance and customer and worker loyalty.”

Read more on IOSH’s position on return to work and rehabilitation.