Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are among the most common work-related illnesses. Millions of workers across Europe are affected, with costs to employers running into billions of euros. Tackling MSDs helps improve workers' lives, but also makes good business sense.
Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) occur mainly in the back, neck, shoulders and upper limbs, but also in the lower limbs. They include any damage or disorder of the joints or ties. Health problems range from minor aches and pains to severe conditions requiring time off work or medical treatment. When they become chronic, they can even lead to disability, making retirement from the workforce necessary.
Causes of MSE
Most work-related MSDs develop over a long period of time. As a rule, MSDs cannot be traced back to a single cause; rather, several risk factors act together, these include, among others. a. physical and biomechanical factors, organizational and psychosocial factors, and individual factors.
Physical and biomechanical risk factors include u. a. In addition to organizational. Psychosocial risk factors include u. a.:
– High work demands and low autonomy – No breaks or no opportunities to change work postures – Working at a fast pace, including as a result of the introduction of new technologies – Long working hours or shift work – Bullying, harassment and discrimination in the workplace – Low job satisfaction
In general, these are any psychosocial and organizational factors (especially in combination with physical risks) that can lead to stress, fatigue, anxiety, or other responses that in turn increase the risk of MSEs.
Individual risk factors include u. a.:
– Medical history – Physical performance – Lifestyle and habits (z. B. Smoking, lack of physical activity)
There is no one solution, and it may occasionally be necessary to seek expert advice for unusual or severe problems. However, many solutions are also simple and can be achieved without significant cost, such as. B. Using a cart to assist with handling goods or moving items around on a work table.
To prevent MSE, employers should combine the following measures:
Hazard assessment: Take a holistic approach, assessing and managing the full range of causes (see above). It is equally important to pay attention to those workers who are at higher risk of MSDs. Priority is given to eliminating the risks, but also to adapting the work to the workers.
Worker participation: Involve workers and worker representatives in discussions of potential problems and solutions. After conducting the risk assessment, a list of actions should be established in order of priority. Workers as well as workers' representatives being involved in their implementation. Interventions should focus on primary prevention, but also on reducing the severity of injuries. It is important to ensure that all workers receive adequate information and training on occupational safety and health and know how to avoid certain hazards and risks.
Actions may include the following areas:
Workplace design: Adapt the design of your workplace to improve posture.
Equipment: Ensure that your work equipment is ergonomic and appropriate for the tasks at hand.
Tasks: Change the way you work or. -tools.
Management: Plan work to avoid uniform repetitive motions or prolonged work in poor posture. Schedule rest breaks, alternate activities or reassign tasks.
Organizational factors: Develop an MSD strategy to improve work organization and the psychosocial work environment and promote musculoskeletal health. Preventive measures should also include technical changes to work equipment. The digitalization of work processes and related changes in work organization are taken into account.
As part of the management approach to MSDs, attention must also be paid to health surveillance, health promotion and recovery, and reintegration of workers affected by MSDs. EU-OSHA has a multi-year project with an overview of safety. Occupational health carried out in relation to work-related MSDs. The goal was to shed light on the problems associated with work-related MSDs, improve our understanding of this problem, and identify effective ways of dealing with work-related MSDs. The project also developed workplace strategies and interventions to help prevent work-related MSDs and address chronic MSDs, which includes helping workers return to work and rehabilitation. The project, which includes an overview of occupational safety and health, addresses the needs of policy makers and researchers and is a complement to the Healthy Workplaces 2020-2022 campaign.
European directives, EU occupational safety and health strategies, Member State regulations and good practice guidelines already recognize the importance of preventing MSDs.
Work-related MSD risks fall under the scope of the Framework Directive on Occupational Safety and Health, which is intended to protect workers from work-related risks in general and establishes the employer's responsibility for occupational health and safety. Some risks related to MSDs are addressed in separate directives, in particular the Manual Handling Directive, the Display Screen Equipment Directive and the Vibration Directive. The Use of Work Equipment Directive addresses the postures of workers when using work equipment and clarifies that employers must consider ergonomic principles to comply with minimum health and safety requirements.
EU-OSHA monitors the occurrence, causes and prevention of MSDs. EU-OSHA also supports the exchange of good practice solutions.