Occupational Diseases in the EU - The system(s) and their role / Way forward

Brussels, December 2013
European Commission - Employment, Social Affairs organised this ergonomics-related event. 

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Alain Piette, Secretary general of the Belgian Ergonomist Society had a presentation on "The burden of musculo-skeletal disorders (MSD)"

The work related musculo-skeletal disorders (WRMSD) are well known by OSH specialists and are defined by WHO (EU-OSHA 2010). The risk factors are many: physical, organisational and individual. The increasing burden of MSD is important and expensive not only for the workers but also for the enterprises and for the society.

Many workers are suffering from MSD as still shown by the last European Working Condition Survey (EWCS) of 2010 (Eurofound): nearly one in two are suffering of low back pain, four in ten of muscular pain in upper limbs and one in three in lower limbs. MSD affect workers in all sectors, men and women and are increasing with age. This EWCS 2010 shows that a lot of work constraints are existing with a high percentage of workers exposed to these constraints, and especially to biomechanical factors.

Even if it is difficult for each enterprise to evaluate costs of MSD, these costs are often very high and can be divided in direct cost (absenteeism, loss of productivity and/or of quality, increasing of the workload for the colleagues not yet suffering of a MSD…) and indirect costs (loss of knowledge, of skills, turn-over…) which can be estimated to 2 to 3 times the direct costs. For example, a report on absenteeism in Belgium evaluates the cost of one absence day to 924€. This report shows that the absenteeism is increasing more and more each year, with on average 6 days of absence per worker and per day for a total annual cost in Belgium estimated to 10.8 Billion €.

The costs for the society are also very high and increasing: health care, disabled people, occupational diseases compensation…Examples taken in France, in Belgium and in Netherlands show the main part taken by MSD in occupational diseases. From the EU-OSHA report 2010, MSD represented nearly 40% of occupational diseases in Europe in 2005.

To help people and especially the enterprises to realize this incredible burden of MSD linked to the working conditions, we need a specific legislation to give more visibility to MSD. But more essentially we need an European OSH strategy to prevent MSD for the workers not yet affected, to allow workers already suffering of MSD to stay longer at work but also to help people to come back to work after a long absence due to MSD. An ergonomic approach of the prevention ie a global approach of all the risk factors, with the workers’ participation to better adapt the working conditions seems the only solution to get an effective MSD prevention.