The ‘European Week for Safety and Health at Work’ is taking place from 19th to 23rd October with EU-OSHA launching their Healthy Workplaces Lighten the Load campaign focusing on musculoskeletal disorders.

Musculoskeletal disorders (more commonly known as MSD’s) arising through work related activities are one of the most common causes of health problems in individuals throughout Europe.  MSD’s can result in pain and discomfort in the:  neck, shoulders, back and upper or lower limbs, and in some cses can seriously impact a person’s ability to work both in the short and long term.

The most frequently identified risk factors in the EU at this time are:

  1. Repetitive hand or arm movements – reported by 65% of work places
  2. Prolonged sitting – reported by 61% of workpaces (often considered a new or emerging MSD risk)
  3. Lifting or moving people or heavy loads – reported by 52% of workplaces
  4. Time pressure – reported by 45% of workplaces
  5. The need to adopt tiring or painful positions – reported by 31% of workplaces

Despite being preventable MSDs are still the most common work-related health problem throughout Europe and one of the prime causes of ill health in the UK as can be seen from the HSE stats below:

The impact of MSD’s are not however born solely by individuals, the costs are also born by business’s and national economies, through:

  • Absenteeism: MSDs continue to account for a high proportion of lost working days throughout Europe, additionally workers with MSDs are also more likely (on average), to be absent for a longer period of time than their counterparts.
  • Presenteeism: Workers who experience pain at work due to a MSD are likely to impact overall performance and productivity;
  • Early or forced retirement: Workers suffering from an MSD may need to give up work completely and are more likely to believe that they will not be able to do the same job at the age of 60.

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 useful step-by-step guidance.

As always involving workers is key to successful risk assessment and effective risk management, with mapping techniques being interactive and reliant on the active participation of workers.  Workers should be encouraged 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 the monitoring processes.

Full details regarding the ‘Body Mapping’ info sheet can be found here and the link to the Musculoskeletal disorder campaign is here.