In a recent report by health and safety experts at Blue Trolley, workers have been cautioned against ignoring the risks associated with back problems, which have seen a staggering 28 percent increase from 2019.

The rise in cases has resulted in a substantial economic impact, with over 2.5 million people in the UK classified as economically inactive due to long-term sickness in 2023.

According to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of cases for back problems causing economic inactivity in the UK surged from 778,786 in 2019 to a concerning 995,378 in 2023. This alarming trend raises questions about the impact on both individual workers and the broader economy.

Lower-paid employees are particularly susceptible, taking longer sick leaves for back problems, further exacerbating the issue of economic inactivity. The World Health Organisation underlines the global scale of musculoskeletal conditions, with low back pain being a leading cause of disability in 160 countries, affecting a staggering 1.7 billion people.

David Davies, a health and safety expert at Blue Trolley, emphasises the importance of addressing the root causes of back problems in the workplace. He identifies several key risks and provides advice for both employees and employers to prevent long-term back problems.

Key Risks and Preventive Measures

  1. Lack of Health and Safety Training:
  • Employers must provide comprehensive health and safety training to ensure that employees are aware of the risks associated with their work.
  1. Lifting Beyond Weight Limits:
  • Employers are obligated to assess risks and comply with weight limits regulations, reducing the risk of injury during manual handling tasks.
  1. Poor Posture at Desks:
  • Employees are advised to maintain good posture, and employers should provide adjustable chairs and conduct workplace assessments to identify ergonomic solutions.
  1. Handling Heavy Goods Without Supporting Equipment:
  • Employers should encourage the use of trolleys and lifting machinery to minimise the risk of injury during heavy lifting tasks.
  1. Prolonged Manual Work:
  • Employers should incorporate breaks into the work schedule for employees engaged in repetitive manual tasks, ensuring proper warm-ups before starting work.
  1. Twisting When Lifting:
  • Workers are warned against twisting their backs when lifting heavy items, as it can lead to severe pain and serious back problems.
  1. Poor Lifestyle Choices:
  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, can reduce the risk of long-term back problems.

What Employers Can Do

Employers are urged to take proactive measures to create a safe working environment and reduce the risk of health problems among their workforce. This includes conducting thorough risk assessments for all employees, being aware of pre-existing medical conditions, and accommodating individual needs to ensure a productive and healthy work environment. By taking these steps, employers can contribute to a decrease in extended periods of employee absence due to preventable health issues.

As the prevalence of back problems continues to rise, addressing these risks becomes crucial for both the well-being of workers and the overall economic landscape. Health experts emphasise that early intervention and a proactive approach to workplace safety are key in mitigating the long-term consequences of back problems among the workforce.






Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.