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September 29, 2009

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Call for coordinated intervention to stem MSD suffering

Nearly half of all absences from work are attributable to

musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), according to a new study of 25

European countries by UK-based research body, The Work Foundation.

The Fit for Work study, which also found that MSDs account for 60 per cent of permanent work incapacity in the EU, estimated that the cost to society in Europe could be as high as €240 billion. The Work Foundation calculated that out of 100 million Europeans who suffer from chronic musculoskeletal pain, 40 per cent have given up work as a result of their condition.

In order to reduce both the human and financial cost of MSDs, the study pushes the case for early intervention. It also recommends that when evaluating the cost-effectiveness of treating illness in general, and MSDs in particular, consideration should be given to wider socio-economic factors, such as work productivity. Such an approach could provide a more complete and realistic assessment of the overall costs and benefits of diagnosis, prevention and treatment, the report argues.

Tatiana Quadrello, senior researcher at the Work Foundation, commented: “The Fit for Work study clearly suggests that early intervention is a key factor in allowing people with MSDs to remain in work. This has provided us with the beginnings of a potential calculation of an ‘early intervention premium’, which could encourage governments and health-care professionals to consider this when discussing intervention policies.”

Responding to the report, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber called for a national occupational health service to identify and treat muscle and back conditions at the earliest opportunity. He explained: “In the UK, just two per cent of workers have access to comprehensive occupational health services through their employer, and most people have to rely on a referral from their GP. This can take many months, by which time the problem may be chronic.”

He also pointed out that the number of cases was evidence that the current European regulations on manual handling and working with computers are inadequate. Said Barber: “We urgently need new and clear regulations, backed up by strong enforcement against those employers that are causing many of these injuries.”

The study was published today (30 September) as part of the launch of the Fit for Work campaign, at the European Parliament in Brussels. Co-host of the event, Edite Estrela MEP, said: “Only coordinated action between governments, business, the health-care professional community and patients will result in interventions that allow those living with MSDs to stay working, contribute to society, and maintain quality of life.”

Co-host, Antonyia Parvanova MEP, added: “Once governments have agreed that MSDs are a priority, they should set out national welfare and public-health plans addressing these conditions, establishing frameworks for the delivery of care and services for people with MSDs.”

The full report can be found at

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