87% of 18 to 24-Year-Olds Claim that Musculoskeletal Disorders Are Work-Induced, Finds Willis Towers Watson

Leading global advisory, broking and solutions conglomerate, Willis Towers Watson (WTW), has been investigating the prevalence of work-related musculoskeletal disease (MSKD), in recent months.

This week, research results were published.[1]

Having acquired 2,000 workers’ self-reported information, WTW revealed that 68% of those surveyed believed that their employment had contributed towards their condition.

Likewise, 64% of respondents held their occupation responsible for exacerbating their MSKD.

A matter for greater concern, perhaps, is that 33% asserted that employers were aware of their health complaints, but failed to provide adequate support.

Breaking these percentages down by age, it is surprising to notice that, while MSKD is typically associated with older workers, the likelihood that a worker would claim that their job was a contributing factor in the development of MSKD increased as the categories became younger:

  • 87% of 18 to 24-year-olds.
  • 80% of 25 to 34-year-olds.
  • 61% of 45 to 55-year-olds.
  • 58% of those aged 55 and over.

This trend was mirrored when WTW observed the likelihood that workers would contend that inadequate assistance was afforded by employers, despite having been aware of their MSKD:

  • 33% of 18 to 44-year-olds.
  • 32% of those aged 45 and over.

Why was age correlated with these allegations?

Is it because people live more sedentary personal and professional lives and are working longer hours than ever before? Alternatively, is it because older generations have a stiffer upper lip, whereas younger individuals have grown up in a health and safety conscious society, with a so-called ‘compensation culture’?

Regardless of the actual reason, Wellbeing Lead at WTW, Mike Blake, has emphasised the importance of protecting young workers (managing risks, alleviating symptoms and preventing onset), who are still in the early stages of their working lives.

Mr. Blake, nevertheless cautioned against a literal reading of the available data that infers that incidence of MSKD is decreasing:

‘Despite a gradual decline in the rate of self-reported work-related MSK disorders – ranging from back pain and tendinitis to osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis – the latest Labour Force Survey suggests this trend has slowed over recent years and an estimated 6.9 million working days are still being lost to MSK conditions’.

N.B. He was making reference to the figure in Table 3 of the HSE’s Labour Force Survey, last updated in October 2019.

It is worth mentioning, as a final remark, that it is not clear from the source material whether the survey of 2,000 workers encompassed a wide-range of industrial sectors. What is apparent, though, is that WTW perceives office workers as being susceptible to MSKD.

Stressing the need for office ergonomic and equipment improvements, as well as regular encouragement to ‘move and stretch’, Mr. Blake cites manual handing, lifting, and ‘keyboard work’ (as an example of a repetitive action), as occupational causes of MSKD.

With the assistance of Michael Ditchfield, of Parklane Plowden Chambers, we reported on the epidemiological link between typing and carpal tunnel syndrome in edition 273 of BC Disease News (here).


[1] More than two thirds of musculoskeletal sufferers say their job has contributed to their condition’ (Willis Towers Watson) <http://www.wtw-healthandbenefits.co.uk/news/musculoskeletal> accessed 22 January 2020.