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Employers can do more to protect health of workers during recession, say physios

CSP press release published on 16 October 2009

Latest data reveals that nearly 30,000 major and fatal injuries occurred in the workplace in 2007/08, and although this is an improvement on previous years (1), physiotherapists are concerned that the numbers remain unacceptably high.

CSP Congress 2009 in Liverpool, 16-17 October

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) is today calling on employers to do even more to support workers to stay in and return to work during the recession. The call for action comes as over a thousand physiotherapy professionals attend CSP Congress 2009 in Liverpool.

The West Midlands shows the greatest improvement out of all enforcing authorities reporting major and fatal workplace injuries to the Health and Safety Executive, with a drop of 15.8 per cent. The second highest drop (11 per cent) was in the North East of England. (See Table 1)

Wales was the only area that showed a rise in the incidents of major and fatal injuries caused by workplace accidents, with a jump of 2.5 per cent over the same period.

Liz Cavan, CSP Chair of Council, said: "An accident in the workplace can cause injuries which leave employees unable to work, or worse, as these figures show, they can be fatal. Sickness absence costs the economy a significant sum (2), but the cost to the individual can be devastating.

"There is a lot of support available to help make workplaces safe for staff. The CSP is urging all employers to take every step to protect their staff, so that workers can be confident they will not be injured in the course of doing their job, and so that they can remain in paid employment while they need it most."
Earlier this week, the CSP welcomed the Government's announcement about its Fit for Work pilot scheme as an excellent development to help people with medical conditions or disabilities to work and end unnecessary dependence on benefits.

Phil Gray, CSP Chief Executive, said: "Musculoskeletal disorders account for 49 per cent of sickness absence from work, a higher proportion than any other condition, and cost the UK economy £7 billion each year (3). Physiotherapists are well placed to tackle workplace ill-health and keep people in employment, and the CSP would urge that the 'new, innovative and personalised services' offer rapid access to physiotherapy and other services that help employees stay well and regain their health following illness or injury." (See note 5)
As well as musculoskeletal injuries and conditions, the CSP is highlighting the impact of mental health conditions on work absence and is calling on employers to be particularly supportive of staff or prospective employees who have mental health conditions or who are experiencing increased stress as a result of the recession.

Research conducted by YouGov in March 2009 revealed that over a third of employees in the UK said stress levels at work were higher than a year ago (4) and a 2008 snapshot poll by the mental health charity Mind found:

  • 58 per cent of those surveyed had to leave a job because of a lack of mental health support from their employers
  • 31 per cent had been sacked or forced out of a job after disclosing a mental health problem
  • 26 per cent had been demoted after disclosing a mental health problem
  • 1 in 4 prospective employees had job offers withdrawn after disclosing a mental health problem, which is illegal under the Disability Discrimination Act.

Physiotherapists are concerned that workers may not feel comfortable disclosing mental health problems for fear of discrimination, especially in the current financial climate when job market competition is so fierce. It could be detrimental to someone's health and wellbeing if they are suffering in silence or being caused extra stress due to concern over losing their job or having their pay reduced.

Liz Cavan said: "The cost of mental health to the economy is huge (5), and this is especially significant during the recession. More crucially, as many individuals as possible must be facilitated to work and earn money at this time, and in 2009 a mental health condition should not be an obstacle to paid employment."
Physiotherapy is one of many disciplines that help employees to remain in work or return to work despite illness and injury. Chartered physiotherapists work alongside other health professionals such as occupational therapists and psychiatrists to deliver the most appropriate care for the individual who needs it.

On Friday 16 October, senior physiotherapist Billy McClean will give a presentation to delegates of the CSP Congress on tackling physical, psychological and social barriers to people's return to work. Billy works for the Leeds Musculoskeletal and Rehabilitation Service, and is involved in the Leeds Incapacity Employment Project (LIEP) aimed at those who claim incapacity related benefit as a result of musculoskeletal and/or mental health problems.

Billy says: "Not only can someone's health have an impact on their ability to work, their ability to work can also have a massive impact on their health and wellbeing. Helping people with physical and psychological problems back into employment can transform their lives. The LEIP program has a multidisciplinary team using a supportive environment, to increase participants' physical fitness and boost confidence in their own abilities. Outcomes have been extremely positive and currently 40 to 50 per cent of the people we've seen have been able to come off benefits and enter paid employment." Ends

Notes to editors

  • For further information please call the CSP press office on 020 7306 1111. Out of hours please call Becky Darke, CSP media relations officer, on 07900 160349.
  • The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy is the professional, educational and trade union body for the UK's 48,000 chartered physiotherapists, physiotherapy students and assistants.
  • NHS referrals to physiotherapy can be gained through your GP, or you can contact your local NHS physiotherapy department, to find out how you can get an appointment. Alternatively, find a private physiotherapist near you at
  • CSP Congress 2009 is an international conference for physiotherapy professionals, held on 16 and 17 October at the BT Convention Centre, Liverpool.
  • See our Press Releases section for full welcoming statement.


(1) The number of major and fatal injuries caused by workplace accidents dropped by over 8 per cent in Britain between 2003/4 and 2007/8.

Table 1: British workplace injuries

Comparison of injuries reported to all enforcing authorities* 2003/4-2007/8

Source: Health and Safety Executive, Crown Copyright Reserved

Figures in columns below(#) show fatal and major injuries


% change

Great Britain

West Midlands

North West

East Midlands

North East

East of England

Yorks & Humber

South West

South East




*Excludes injuries reported to the Railways Inspectorate/ORR and records where the Local Authority location is not known (p) - provisional

(2) According to Dame Carol Black's 2008 Review of the health of Britain's working age population, Working for a healthier tomorrow, "Common mental health problems and musculoskeletal disorders are the major causes of sickness absence and worklessness due to ill-health. This is compounded by a lack of appropriate and timely diagnosis and intervention. The costs to the taxpayer - benefit costs, additional health costs and forgone taxes - are estimated to be over £60 billion."

(3) Source: 'Fit for Work? Musculoskeletal Disorders in the European Workforce', The Work Foundation (September, 2009).

(4) The online research, conducted by YouGov for Investors in People UK between 23-26 March 2009, revealed 38% of employees in the UK said stress levels at work were higher than a year ago. Total sample size was 2,261 adults. Investors in People press release: 'Recession stress threatens UK productivity'.

(5) The total cost to employers of mental health problems among their staff is estimated at nearly £26bn each year. This includes £8.4bn in sickness absence. The average employee takes seven days off sick each year of which 40% are for mental health problems. This adds up to 70m lost working days a year, including one in seven directly caused by a person's work or working conditions. (The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, December 2007).


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