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New European Initiative Highlights Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders

The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work dedicated the European Week for Safety and Health at Work from October Oct. 22-26 to musculoskeletal disorders, the most common work-related health problem in Europe. The Agency launched the publication, "Work-related musculoskeletal disorders: Back to work report," to coincide with the special week and support its aims. The two initiatives promote an integrated management approach to tackling MSDs.

Work-related MSDs are impairments of the muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments, nerves or the localized blood circulation system. The symptoms may vary from discomfort and pain to decreased function and disability. The report points out that it is not clear to what extent MSDs are caused by work, but that their impact on working life is extreme. Work activity and productivity can lessen, while sick leave and chronic occupational disability can increase.

The economic cost is huge, according to the Agency. MSDs are the biggest cause of absence from work in practically all member states of the European Union. They account for 40 percent of the costs of workers’ compensation in some states, and cause a reduction of up to 1.6 percent in the gross domestic product (GDP) of the country itself. The Agency also points out that MSDs reduce companies’ profitability and add to the social costs of governments.

The new report covers measures to prevent the disorders and evaluates the effectiveness of interventions in the workplace. It also provides an overview of policy initiatives regarding the retention, reintegration and rehabilitation of workers who already suffer from MSDs.

Based on the scientific literature that supports the report, the report sees:

• Clear evidence that it is important for back pain sufferers to stay active and return to ordinary activities as early as possible
• A combination of optimal clinical management, a rehabilitation program and workplace interventions is more effective for back problems than single elements alone
• Taking a multidisciplinary approach offers the most promising results for back pain, but the cost effectiveness of the treatments needs to be examined
• Temporarily modified work is an effective return-to-work intervention for back pain sufferers – if it is embedded in good occupational management
• Some evidence supports the effectiveness of exercise therapy, back schools and behavioral treatment
• Lumbar supports such as back belts and corsets appear to be ineffective in secondary prevention of back pain
• A multidisciplinary approach involving a cognitive-behavioral component might be the most effective type of intervention for upper limb pain
• There is limited evidence on the effectiveness of some technical or mechanical interventions and exercise therapy for upper limb pain
• No information on work-related intervention strategies has been found for lower limb pain

The Agency points out that the high prevalence of MSDs among workers and their considerable impact on working life make it imperative that action be taken in the workplace.

Source: European Agency for Safety and Health at Work