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Musculoskeletal conditions

The umbrella term musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions covers a wide range of short- and long-term health conditions affecting the joints, bones, muscles and associated body tissues. Different types of MSK conditions have different causes. Some MSK conditions result from injury and repetition of certain movements, especially those associated with particular working practices. Some auto-immune or inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can also cause MSK symptoms.

Statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that the industries with the most reported incidents of musculoskeletal disorders are agriculture, construction, health and social care and transport and logistics.

Impact on employment

The Department for Work and Pensions provides statistics on employment status by medical condition. These show that people with musculoskeletal conditions are much less likely to be in employment than average. The employment rate for people with musculoskeletal conditions and classed as disabled was 57.5% in 2022/23, compared to 75.7% for the whole population aged 16-64.

Health and safety law

Health and safety law in Great Britain is governed both by statute law, in particular the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HASAWA), and by common law principles such as the concept of a duty of care that employers have towards their workers. HSE is the primary regulator for workplace health and safety in Great Britain.

HSE has a range of specific workplace guidance on musculoskeletal disorders. This includes a summary of the law on musculoskeletal disorders at work which outlines duties under HASAWA and five pieces of secondary legislation that may be of particular relevance to workers with musculoskeletal disorders:

Disability and employment

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination at work on the grounds of disability, along with other protected characteristics such as age or race. Employers are required under the Act to make reasonable adjustments to workplaces and working practices to remove or reduce disadvantages faced by workers that are related to their disabilities.

For more information on reasonable adjustments and disability discrimination, see the Library briefing on Disability discrimination. For more information on Government programmes to support disabled people in work, see the Library briefing Disabled people in employment.

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