About the Psychosocial Flags Framework

The Flags concept originated as a practical framework for understanding and evaluating psychosocial influences in musculoskeletal problems. Flags are warning signals that psychosocial factors in or around the individual are acting as obstacles to full recovery and return to work.

The emphasis is on identifying flags, then turning them into opportunities for action - combining appropriate treatment and management of psychosocial obstacles.

The three flags are:

  • Yellow flags are about the Person (thoughts, feelings, behaviours)
  • Blue flags are about the Workplace (work and health concerns)
  • Black flags are about the Context (relevant people, systems and policies).

Flags are about identifying obstacles to being active and working. Flags are signals that things will get in the way and point to obstacles in need of action. The important thing is to figure out how these can be overcome or bypassed.

Identification is about looking for unhelpful behaviours and circumstances. All players have a role in spotting flags related to: the Person with the problem; their Workplace; and the wider Context of their lives. The key is to start looking as soon as symptoms are reported or the person goes off work.

The Flags Process:

  1. Identify flags - looking for obstacles should be a routine activity by all key players
  2. Develop plan - key players communicate
  3. Take action - stepped approach, just what's needed, when it's needed.

When working within the Flags framework, the principle of 'Do it in steps - start simple, then delve deeper' should be applied.