Pain in the workplace: which industries are the worst affected?
No matter your occupation, it’s likely that at some stage in your career you’ll be presented with a degree of discomfort or even injury as a result of your daily job. Whether it’s back pain from sitting at a desk 9-5 or chronic aches from being on your feet all day, the potential for developing ailments is ever-present.
Between 2019 and 2020 an estimated 1.6 million workers reported suffering from an illness they believed was caused or made worse by work and 693,000 workers sustained a non-fatal injury at work. However, the risk of injury and work-related illness varies, being more likely in some industries than others.1
We commissioned a new study in which we asked 2,000 Brits about their experiences of work-related pain. The poll found that nearly a third (32%) of people experienced pain due to their workplace at least once a week, whilst over half (51%) have taken time off work due to injury.
Lower back (43%), neck (37%) and shoulder pain (31%), are generally the most common types of pain experienced by workers, although this does vary from industry to industry.
Top 10 areas of the body experiencing pain due to the work environment are:
- Lower back (43%)
- Neck (37%)
- Shoulders (31%)
- Upper back (18%)
- Hands (16%)
- Head (15%)
- Arms (15%)
- Knees (12%)
- Feet (11%)
- Legs (10%)
Here’s a breakdown of how pain caused by working environment impacts each industry:
Amongst office workers, neck pain (46%) and lower back pain (42%) proved to be the most common forms of discomfort in the workplace.
Over four in ten (42%) of office workers experience discomfort on a weekly basis at least, and only just over a quarter (26%) said that they have never experienced pain due to their work environment.
In total, 44% of those working in an office had taken some time off work due to injury, whilst 6% had taken more than a month away from the office.
Amongst factory workers, back injuries (33%) were the most common form of workplace related pain, with shoulders (26%) also common amongst workers.
Six in ten (62%) factory employees said that they suffered from work related pain once a week or more, and only a tenth (10%) said that they did not experience any form of pain due to their working environment.
Consequently, 59% of those working in factories have taken time off work due to pain or injuries due to their workplace.
Neck pain (32%) was also the most common form of discomfort amongst construction workers, followed by arm pain (25%).
A huge seven in ten (71%) of construction workers said that they experienced pain at work at least once a week, the highest percentage of any industry, with only 7% never experiencing any form of work-related pain.
Nearly nine in ten (89%) of construction workers said that they’d taken time off due to injury, with 56% missing more than a week.
In 2020 the Health and Safety Executive found that in the construction industry there were an estimated 81,000 work-related ill health cases (new or longstanding) with over half (57%) of these being musculoskeletal.2
Lower back pain was also the most common form of discomfort amongst labourers, with over a third (36%) experiencing it, and 28% suffering from neck pain, the second most common injury.
Only 17% of labourers said they had never experienced pain at work, compared to nearly half (48%) who said that they suffered from pain caused by their working environment at least once a week.
A third (33%) said that they had never taken time off work due to any form of injury or pain, however, 17% said that they had missed over a month due to time off work caused by pain.
Amongst retail workers, lower back pain (44%) was again the most common form of pain, with neck pain (36%) also proving to be common amongst employees.
Nearly a fifth (19%) of workers said that they had never experienced any form of injury due to their work, whilst 55% suffered from discomfort at least once a week.
Almost half (48%) have never taken time off work due to injuries caused by their working environment, whilst nearly one in ten (9%) said that they had missed more than a month.
Those working in the emergency services are also most likely to experience back pain, reporting the highest rates of lower back pain of any industry (61%). Neck pain was again very common (43%), ranking as the second most experienced pain in the industry.
Over a quarter (28%) said that they never experienced pain due to work, whilst 41% reported suffering from some form of discomfort caused by work at least once a week.
Emergency service workers are also the least likely to miss time, with 57% saying they had never taken time off work due to injury, the highest out of any sector.
The National Audit Office report for 2017 also revealed sickness absence rates in the ambulance service are higher than in the NHS as a whole. Some of this is explained by the fact that ambulance work by its nature carries an increased risk of musculoskeletal injury and violence.3
Workers in the hospitality sector also reported that lower back pain (56%) and neck pain (24%) were the most common forms of injury that they experienced.
A quarter (25%) of hospitality staff said that they had never experienced work-related pain, whilst nearly half (48%) reported feeling pain or discomfort once a week or more.
Additionally, more than half (52%) said that they had never taken time off for pain caused by their working environment.
Over half (51%) of teachers complained of lower back pain caused by their work, making it the most common form of pain in the industry. Shoulder pain was found to be the second most likely injury to trouble teachers, with a third (33%) suffering from it.
However, teachers are the least likely to experience pain caused by their working environment, with 32% saying they never experienced pain or injury at work, the highest rate of any sector. Despite this, over a quarter (36%) said that they suffered from discomfort at least once a week.
Teachers were also amongst the least likely to miss time due to injury, with 57% never taking a day off, second only to emergency service workers. More than one in ten (13%) of teachers meanwhile, said that they’d taken at least a month off.
A report by the Health and Safety Executive in 2020 revealed there were an estimated 34,000 work-related cases of musculoskeletal disorder in the education sector (new or long-standing), equating to about a quarter of all ill health in this sector.4
Nearly two thirds (60%) of tradespeople reported lower back injuries, once again making it the most common injury sustained at work. Shoulder pain (31%) was found to be the second most likely pain to trouble tradespeople.
A quarter (25%) of tradespeople have never experienced any pain caused by their work, whilst 41% said they were troubled by it at least once a week.
Half (50%) of tradespeople said that they had never taken time off work due to pain or injury, with only 2% saying that they’d missed more than a month of work.
There are multiple ways to treat and manage any pain you might be experiencing, with options including pain management medication, hydrotherapy, physiotherapy or heat therapy. Heat can be used to help alleviate pain as it dilates local blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can improve blood circulation in the areas experiencing pain while warming up the muscles and other soft tissues.
Hydrotherapy can also help relieve muscular and joint pain, helping to take pressure off the joints and muscles, whilst adding resistance to increase strength.5
Tracey Hudson, Executive Director, at HR Dept, said: “It’s worrying to see that regardless of the industry, a large portion of workers are experiencing pain, injury or discomfort as a result of their working conditions.
“If you experience pain due to your work, make sure to raise the issue with a line manager or your employer’s HR department, as they will take steps to ensure you are safe, and will work with Occupational Health or your GP who can often suggest changes to your working environment which can help prevent injury or the recurrence of pain. If these problems persist, or if you suffer a serious injury whilst at work, make sure you visit a healthcare professional and take time off to allow your body to heal.
“Occupational Health can also be accessed by all companies who will recommend adjustments and, assuming these are reasonable, then following their advice could be life-changing for employees who struggle at work.”
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