Case study

Supporting Musculo­skeletal Awareness, Research, and Training for the Early Year’s Workforce

Many people working in the early years sector regularly undertake significant physical tasks as routine aspects of their role. Despite this, work investigating the associated risks has so far been limited. This collaborative research project, led by the University of Derby, seeks to address this gap in understanding, providing new evidence and practical insights that can inform and support both individuals working in these roles and the sector as a whole.

Project SMARTey

Supporting Musculoskeletal Awareness, Research and Training for the Early Year’s Workforce

The project seeks to address gaps in understanding regarding potential hazards posed by the physical demands common in many early year’s roles. Specifically, it aims to investigate possible risk or impacts on individuals’ musculoskeletal (MSK) health associated with environmental or role factors, and how these may be mitigated.

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are the most widespread and burdensome form of impairment - an estimated 1.71 billion people are impacted globally (Cieza et al., 2020), with back pain cited as the largest individual source of disability both globally (World Health Organisation (WHO), 2023), and domestically in the UK (Ferreira et al., 2023). Expectations are for this phenomenon to increase, with potential knock-on effects for employment longevity, individual wellbeing, and demands on health care services.

This multi-partner endeavour delivers the first robust analyses of the MSK health of those working in the UK early years sector, considering the actions and environments which may be associated with poorer outcomes. Project partners are united in the goals of raising awareness, reducing risk, and promoting best MSK practices in the early years sector, with a view towards improving early years practitioner MSK health outcomes, increasing quality of provision for children, and reducing staff turnover in the sector.

To find out more about this project please contact Alistair Turvill, a Senior Lecturer specialising in children’s health, and a PhD candidate in chronic pain and quality of life.

Alistair Turvill is a lecturer in Early Childhood Studies. Alistair's primary responsibilities include leading the provision of health modules on the BA (Hons) Early Childhood Studies and oversight of the foundation students entering the degree pathway.


Cieza, A., Causey, K., Kamenov, K., Hanson, S. W., Chatterji, S. And Vos, T. (2020). Global estimates of the need for rehabilitation based on the Global Burden of Disease study 2019: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2019. The Lancet, 396(10267), 2006-2017.

Ferreira, M. L., de Luca, K., Haile, L. M., Steinmetz, J. D., Culbreth, G. T., Cross, M., ... and Mahmoodpoor, A. (2023). Global, regional, and national burden of low back pain, 1990–2020, its attributable risk factors, and projections to 2050: a systematic analysis of the Global Burden of Disease Study 2021. The Lancet Rheumatology, 5(6), e316-e329.

World Health Organisation (2023). Low back pain. Retrieved August 2023 from:

Project aims and outcomes

The range of potential impacts for the current project are significant and varied. It is hoped that through greater raising of awareness and provision of information on effective action, a number of different goals may be achieved. 

To individuals

Understanding and promoting the physical health of individuals’ working in the early years offers a range of desirable outcomes to lived experiences, including. 

To settings and families

There are a range of potential benefits to both settings and families who use these settings. These are both economic, practical, and related to quality of provision.

To society

The need to foster a skilled and able work force for young children is a key demand for modern societies, both to provide children with the professionals to expertly support their progression, as well as enable parents to work. There are also wider social, and economic demands and burdens associated with supporting people whose ability to work is hampered due to injury or impairment.

Project team and partners

Project Team

Project Partners

Resources and information