In April last year, Chartered Healthy Schools Physiotherapist Lorna Taylor, in conjunction with Voice: the union for education professionals, published the results of a survey of early years and primary teaching professionals that produced shocking evidence of the scale of work-related injuries in education and early years and the lack of help for sufferers, despite legislation in place to protect employees.
The overwhelming majority of respondents felt that the issue was under-reported, with only 8% actually officially recording their problems. Most didn’t report them or didn’t know how to raise their concerns. Over a third did not report their pain because they feared jeopardising their career. Many staff said that they could no longer sit on the floor, now worked part-time supply rather than full-time, had moved to work with older children, or were forced to take ill-health retirement.
98% of respondents reported discomfort which they felt was work-related at some point in their career:
- 88% experienced back pain
- 73% experienced neck and shoulder pain
- 82% experienced Musculo-skeletal Disorders (MSDs)* once a week or more
- 38% had been off work
- 70% had received treatment (NHS, private or both). Several respondents had received hip, knee and back surgery two in their 30s had undergone back surgery. Private treatment included: physiotherapy, chiropractic, osteopathy, acupuncture, massage, podiatry and orthopaedic surgery.
- 82% reported discomfort once a week or more
- 36% reported daily pain
Work activities causing discomfort included:
- 91% bending over low tables
- 85% sitting on children's chairs
- 71% kneeling at low tables/on the floor.
- Others included: manual handling (lifting/carrying children off climbing equipment, for nappy changes, if they have fallen), putting up displays, working at child-height computers, bending over laptops in class, standing all day, picking up items from the floor, moving heavy boxes from above head height, working at low whiteboards, physically assisting children with special needs, being outside for long periods in the cold and wet.
The survey was featured in TES and elsewhere.
However, this is an issue that hasn't gone away. A recent article in SecEd highlighted pupils' back problems.
Lorna Taylor, while exhibiting a chair she has developed at the Education Show in March, had some rather alarming feedback from visitors that highlighted how some employers' attitudes need to change:
"We don't need these chairs, my back is fine." (a primary headteacher)
"We are not allowed adult furniture in the nursery rooms." (a nursery worker)
"I have bought my own ‘Jolly Back’ chair as my school would never fund it. They don’t consider staff well-being is important." (a primary teacher)
Is it really acceptable that you take your own chair to work?! It seems that the number of teachers self-funding chairs is growing.
What can be done?
- Let someone know especially your head teacher/manager/employer, GP or union. Every workplace must have a reporting system in place. If you are experiencing discomfort at work, it is likely your colleagues are too. Information gathered enables the HSE and local authorities to identify where and how risks arise. Contact HSE (0845 300 9923) or Voice for further information. Don't suffer in silence!
- Dedicate staff meeting time to discuss experiences and risks. Share findings with your union health and safety representative.
- There are some published practical tips to save your back (pdf) on the Voice Website (www.voicetheunion.org.uk/backs) and from Lorna and colleagues. (Lorna will be speaking at a seminar at Voice’s conference in Manchester in May.)
Have you experienced back or neck pain?
Is your workplace supportive or do you have to take your own chair to work because staff health and safety is not the high priority it should be?
Do let us know
[Information about external resources does not represent an endorsement by Voice.]