How to combat musculoskeletal disorders

The European Commission is seeking the views of workers' and employers'
representatives on how best to tackle the growing problem of musculoskeletal
disorders (MSD). These ailments, which include back pain and repetitive strain
injury, are the biggest health and safety problem facing European workers
today. Studies show that they affect over 40 million workers in all sectors
across the EU and account for 40 to 50 per cent of all work-related
ill-health.. They are costing employers across the EU billions of euros. The
problem is eroding Europe's competitiveness and leading to losses of 0.5 to 2
per cent of GNP each year.

In a consultation document issued last week, the Commission says that whilst
such disorders are in principle covered by general EU health and safety
legislation, most of it is over a decade old and does not apply specifically to
work-related MSDs. Some Member States have passed laws to tackle the problem
and others have not. The Commission is asking workers and employers to say how
they think these gaps in the law at national and Community level should be
plugged to prevent such ailments from developing.

The Commission highlights the problems for business that arise from these
disorders: production losses, sick leave, medical, compensation and insurance
costs, the loss of experienced staff and the cost of recruiting and training
new staff, and the impact on the quality of work. The main cause of these
disorders is poor ergonomic conditions. The three main risk factors are lifting
and moving heavy loads, repetitive movements, and strenuous working postures.

The problem affects men and women alike, in all sectors across the EU. Figures
show that it is increasing: in 2000 over a third of European workers complained
of back-ache ­ a three-point increase from the 1995 level. Agricultural workers
are the worst affected overall, with 57 per cent suffering from MSDs. The
highest increases are being seen amongst professionals (up from 18 per cent to
24 per cent) and technicians (up from 23 per cent to 31 per cent).

Workers' and employers' groups have six weeks from now to reply to the
Commission's paper. They are being asked whether they would like to see new
Community legislation or whether they would prefer voluntary measures, or a
combination of binding and non-binding measures, and what the main focus of the
preventive measures should be (e.g. ergonomics, work organisation, psychosocial
aspects). They could also decide to draw up an agreement themselves to tackle
the problem.

MSDs are one of today's major modern workplace issues being dealt with as part
of the "social dialogue" between the two sides of industry which is being
promoted by the Commission. As a result of this dialogue, an agreement on
combating stress at the workplace was recently reached.

Further Information

AplusA-online.de - Source: European Agency for Safety and Health at Work