From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Report on Musculoskeletal disorders in the European Union

The 2010 Report on Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in the European Union highlights the current state of Occupational Health and Safety as well as a number of trends in the risk profiles for member states.  This 170+page report summarizes much of the MSD data collected by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work over the past two decades and builds on previous EU-OSHA reports. Their first in-depth report on MSDs was in 2000. That report focused on low back and upper limb disorders. In the interim years there were two campaigns to raise awareness about MSDs and their solutions; these were in 2000 & 2007. (See Ergonomics Today article, Nov 2007).

This 2010 report summarizes data from the European Survey on Working Conditions (ESWC), which has been administered every 5 years, and involves interviews with random workers in a variety of jobs and countries. The latest survey involved meeting with some 44,000 workers across the continent.  These workers were asked about employment status, working time duration, work organization, learning and training, physical and psychosocial risk factors, health and safety, work-life balance, worker participation, earnings and financial security, as well as work and health. The report also includes data from member states in their required reporting called European Occupational Disease Statistics (EODS).

According to the report, the World Health Organization has defined a work-related disorder as one that results from a number of factors, and where the work environment and the performance of the work contribute significantly to the causation of the disease.
Furthermore, they define musculoskeletal disorders as health problems of the locomotor apparatus, i.e. muscles, tendons, the skeleton, cartilage, the vascular system, ligaments and nerves.  MSDs cover a wide range of inflammatory and degenerative diseases of the locomotor system. They include:

  • Inflammations of tendons (tendinitis and tenosynovitis), especially in the forearm wrist, elbow and shoulder, evident in occupations involving prolonged periods of repetitive and static work;
  • Myalgias, i.e. pain and functional impairments of muscles, occurring predominantly in the shoulder-neck region, that occur in occupations with large static work demands;
  • Compression of nerves – entrapment syndromes – occurring especially in the wrist and forearm;
  • Degenerative disorders occurring in the spine, usually in the neck or lower back, especially in those performing manual handling or heavy physical work. However, they may also occur in the hip or knee joints.
    These disorders are chronic, and symptoms usually occur only after exposure to work related risk factors for a period of time.

According to the report, the causes of work-related MSDs are usually multifactorial and stem from physical, ergonomic and psychosocial factors such as:

  • Repetitive work;
  • Painful/ tiring positions;
  • Carrying or moving heavy loads
  • Exposure to vibrations, lifting or moving people, and prolonged standing or walking.
  • Work organizational risk factors such as speed of work

Results & Trends: MSDs are an increasing at the EU level
According to the latest figures:

  • 24.7% of European workers complain of backache,
  • 22.8% of muscular pains,
  • 45.5% report working in painful or tiring positions while
  • 35% are required to handle heavy loads in their work.
  • In the older EU-15 countries, backache is the most frequent work-related health problem, while in the newer Member States; backache takes the second place after overall fatigue.

MSDs + carpal tunnel syndrome increased by 32% from 2002 to 2005. MSDs + carpal tunnel syndrome accounted for 59% of all recognized disease covered by EODS in 2005 (about 85% of all ODs among women).

Some Key Findings:

  • MSDs and exposure to MSDs risk factors are increasing in younger working populations.
  • Self-employed workers appear to be more affected by MSDs and exposed to MSDs risks.
  • There is a trend towards static work postures.
  • Also, prolonged standing and sitting are a significant risk factor still underestimated.
  • There is a trend away from the standard “one worker – one workplace” model towards varying workplaces.
  • Cumulative figures of MSDs, rather than only annual new cases, would provide a better picture of the actual situation.
  • Workers are generally exposed to several MSDs risk factors.
  • Many MSDs are undiagnosed because many physicians are looking for monocausality. Many MSDs have multifactorial aetiologies and, if a physician cannot find one clear single cause for a medical condition, it may not be identified.

Source: EUROPEAN RISK OBSERVATORY REPORT  OSH in figures: Work-related musculoskeletal disorders in the EU — Facts and figures, 2010    ISBN 978-92-9191-261-2

Gene Kay has a Masters degree in Exercise Science and is a Certified Ergonomics Associate. He has been designing web-based ergonomics programs for 10 years, and owns the ErgoAdvocate Ergonomics Training program.  Gene has served as the American Express Global Ergonomics Manager, a Rehab Services Manager, and is Past-President of the Upper Midwest Chapter of HFES.

This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2011-10-10.