BEMAS is a proud partner of the EU-OSHA campaign 'Healthy Workplaces - Lighten the Load' that takes place from 2020 to 2022.
What is the issue?
Millions of workers across Europe suffer from work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). About three in every five workers in the European Union report MSD complaints, based on data from the sixth European Working Conditions Survey.
Work-related MSDs are impairments of bodily structures, such as muscles, joints and tendons, that are caused or aggravated primarily by work or the effects of the immediate work environment. They can be highly detrimental to an individual’s quality of life and ability to work, and are one of the most common causes of disability, sick leave and early retirement.
The most common work-related MSDs are backache and pains in the upper limbs. Physical, organisational, psychosocial and individual factors can contribute to their development.
According to the 2019 European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks, the most frequently identified risk factor in the EU-27 is repetitive hand or arm movements (reported by 65 % of establishments). Other MSD-related risks include prolonged sitting (61 %) — often considered a new or emerging MSD risk — lifting or moving people or heavy loads (52 %), time pressure (45 %), and tiring or painful positions (31 %).
Although MSDs are preventable, they remain the most common work-related health problem in Europe. This is cause for concern not only because of their effects on the health of individual workers, but also because of their detrimental impact on businesses and national economies.
Why is it so important?
Despite efforts to prevent them, MSDs remain at the top of the list of work-related health problems in Europe, and often occur in combination with other health problems. This inevitably reduces individuals’ quality of life and capacity to work, damaging businesses and economies.
Absence from work due to MSDs accounts for a high proportion of working days lost in the EU. Workers with MSDs also have longer periods of absence on average than those without health problems.
Work-related MSDs are one of the most common causes of disability and sick leave and are the most commonly recognised occupational disease in countries including France, Italy, Latvia and Spain.
A third of workers with MSDs and another health issue believe that they will not be able to continue doing their job to the age of 60 years.
In addition, MSDs cause individuals to be less productive while at work, with higher rates of ‘presenteeism’, that is, working while unwell, among those with MSDs than those without health problems.
This has a major impact in economic terms. Direct costs of work-related MSDs include resources used for health care (diagnosis and treatment of disease, and rehabilitation expenditure) and medicines, and workers’ compensation costs. Indirect costs include those resulting from disruptions to working teams, decreases in productivity, production delays and the replacement of sick workers (including the training of new employees), and costs related to absenteeism/presenteeism. These indirect costs are estimated to be several times higher than the direct costs for businesses.
It is vital, therefore, that employers are made aware of the issue and offered support and guidance in preventing or managing MSDs.
Who has to be involved?
It is essential that everyone works together to prevent MSDs in the workplace. Collaboration between employers, managers and workers creates a common understanding of the issue and leads to lasting improvements.
Employers have a legal responsibility to ensure that workplace risks are properly assessed and controlled, and must acknowledge the need to take the lead on a preventive approach to tackling MSDs. Effective risk assessment and prevention require employers to keep themselves and their workers well informed and trained.
It is important to encourage workers to talk openly and as early as possible about MSDs. If workers feel comfortable discussing their physical health, they are more likely to look after themselves and seek early support and treatment.
This campaign is not only about increasing awareness of work-related MSDs and their negative impact on individuals, businesses and society, but also aims to promote working together to ensure that effective preventive measures are taken to tackle MSDs.
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EU-OSHA is the European Union information agency for occupational safety and health. Their work contributes to the European Commission’s Strategic Framework for Safety and Health at work 2014-2020 and other relevant EU strategies and programmes, such as Europe 2020 .