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October 12, 2020

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Musculoskeletal disorders

Musculoskeletal disorders are the focus of European Week for Safety and Health at Work

EU-OSHA launches toolkit to provide practical advice on how to prepare and run successful campaigns for better occupational safety and health management.

Back painEU-OSHA’s European Week for Safety and Health at Work, taking place from 19 to 23 October, marks the official launch of the Healthy Workplaces Lighten the Load campaign, which focuses on musculoskeletal disorders.

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are one of the most common work-related health problems in Europe. They cause pain and discomfort in the back, neck, shoulders, upper limbs and lower limbs, and can affect a person’s ability to work.

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.

MSDs affect individuals’ ability to work and are therefore a major cost burden for businesses and economies:

  • Absenteeism: absence from work due to MSDs accounts for a high proportion of working days lost in EU Member States. Workers with MSDs are also more likely, on average, to be absent for a longer period of time;
  • Presenteeism: experiencing pain at work as a result of an MSD is likely to affect performance and productivity;
  • Early or forced retirement: workers suffering from an MSD may need to give up work completely, and are more likely than those without to believe that they will not be able to do the same job at the age of 60.

A campaign toolkit is available to help companies get involved; this can be found here. It features useful and practical examples of various communication tools with tips and tricks for their use.

The campaign website can be found here.

Body mapping to prevent musculoskeletal disorders

EU-OSHA has published an information sheet which provides an overview of body and hazard mapping techniques and highlights their value in identifying and preventing work-related MSDs. It lists the resources needed to run a hazard or body mapping session in your own workplace and provides step-by-step guidance.

Involving workers is key to successful risk assessment and effective risk management, it says. Mapping techniques are interactive and rely on the active participation of workers, encouraging them to think about how their health might be affected by work, identify potential risks and come up with practical solutions. The results are an invaluable input for risk assessment and monitoring processes.

Key points

  • Body mapping is a technique that employers and workers’ representatives can use to gather evidence from groups of workers about the effects of work on their bodies, such as musculoskeletal aches and pains;
  • Workers use coloured pens or stickers to mark where they suffer aches and pains on an outline of the body. The collective results of this kind of mapping can:
    • identify clusters of problems that may need further investigation;
    • be used to encourage workers to discuss solutions to the problems they report.
  • Hazard mapping is a similar method for collective information gathering. Workers use coloured pens or stickers to mark where hazards are on a map of a workplace;
  • The results of mapping can be used as part of risk assessments and reviews, but are not a substitute for formal risk assessments.

The information sheet can be found here.

Approaches to managing the risks associated Musculoskeletal disorders

In this episode of the Safety & Health Podcast, we hear from Matt Birtles, Principal Ergonomics Consultant at HSE’s Science and Research Centre, about the different approaches to managing the risks associated with Musculoskeletal disorders.

Matt, an ergonomics and human factors expert, shares his thoughts on why MSDs are important, the various prevalent rates across the UK, what you can do within your own organisation and the Risk Management process surrounding MSD’s.

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