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Nursery Managers Show


24 Jun 2024

Guest blog: Physical wellbeing, sickness absence, retention and recruitment

Guest blog: Physical wellbeing, sickness absence, retention and recruitment
Physiotherapist Lorna Taylor explores why there is a need for improved occupational health and physical wellbeing education in the early years sector.

Initially starting my career as a children’s physiotherapist over 20 years ago, I now work in occupational health physiotherapy, looking at ways to prevent ill health, reduce pain and improve quality of life for employees. I am professionally and personally aware of the physical demands and strain on our bodies of working at low “child” heights and on the floor in environments designed for children. Working with young children is a challenging job, both physically and emotionally!

Additionally, and proudly, our middle daughter is pursuing her dream of becoming an early years teacher, currently at university. She is youthful and sporty and, with a physiotherapist as a mother, is aware of posture and movement! Nevertheless, in the second week of placement, she told me her back was aching from sitting on children’s chairs, working at the low children’s tables, lifting equipment, etc, and didn’t know what to do. I was able to help with advice and ideas, and also supplied her with a Jolly Back chair to take back to her classroom. I’m pleased I could help, but these risky work activities are happening to thousands of people every day and many do not know the causes of their pain or what to do about it. This is where occupational health and improved training for those currently working in the sector and for future workers can help.

I am, at the moment, one of very few occupational health physiotherapists working in the early years, childcare and education sectors. It seems the benefits of occupational health are little known and understood. However, huge opportunities exist to improve employee wellbeing, reduce sickness absence, and improve retention and recruitment for an incredibly important and valuable sector of employees. After all, aren’t staff the most important resource of every organisation?

For businesses driven by profit, investment in occupational health is a given. Return on investment is between 1 and 13 times. It is seen as an investment in the future success of a business; demonstrating commitment to maintaining a healthy working environment while reducing long-term costs associated with absenteeism and turnover rates. It makes good business sense.

Although early years and childcare organisations are generally not driven by profit, arguably their purpose and success measures are even more important than this. They are helping to shape children’s lives and the future of our global society. I’m not sure of the monetary value this equates too, but I hope it shows how valuable early childhood educators are!

We know that early childhood educators regularly undertake significant physical tasks in environments designed for children. Yet despite this, research investigating occupational risks is limited. There are many reasons for this: “pain is accepted as part of the job”, “what can we actually do about it”, “all funds are spent on the children”, “I won’t report my pain for fear of jeopardising my career”, “I’ve been told I can be replaced”. I hope that if you’re reading this, you cannot relate to these comments – but if you can, I am sorry and please do report your pain to your manager. You will be helping yourself and your colleagues. Simple, low-cost solutions are possible, and most importantly, you are worth it! If you are self-employed, or for further useful advice, the following information 'Awareness and prevention of back pain and other musculoskeletal disorders in the early years workforce' created with the Early Years Alliance is worth reading and sharing.

I have also been part of a University of Derby research study which has investigated the relationships between early years roles, environments and musculoskeletal pain, and how these relate to taking time off work and considering changing jobs. The differences between leaders/managers and practitioners were also explored. Excitingly, research journal publication is due soon – it is the first study of its kind globally in the early years sector!

Findings showed the greater number of years’ service in the early years role, the more pain locations (for example, back, neck shoulders, knees, feet) were experienced and the more likely job change was considered.

Frequency of carrying out risky work activities known to cause musculoskeletal pain (for example, bending, twisting, lifting, using inappropriate furniture) significantly predicted pain frequency, time since pain onset and need to take time off work.

98.5% of the study sample (196) reported experiencing chronic pain in at least one location, evidencing a highly prevalent health crisis in the early years workforce and one which is significantly associated with the working demands of the roles and environments. These factors are also associated with absenteeism and individuals considering moving to different employment sectors.

Further information on the University of Derby’s Project SMARTEY (Supporting Musculoskeletal Awareness, Research and Training for the Early Years’ Workforce) can be found here.

The need for improved occupational health and physical wellbeing education presents valuable opportunity for those wishing to explore and embrace it. Effective approaches to reduce work-related risks are already available.  

For some immediate, simple, low-cost occupational health advice for early years, this poster is recommended.

For further bespoke advice and training, please contact and you can see Lorna speaking at Nursery Managers Show on Friday 28 June.





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