European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

Social and economic costs

Along with mental disorders and cardiovascular disease, MSDs are a major cause of early withdrawal from the labour force. According to Eurostat, 40% of recognized occupational diseases in the EU are related to MSDs. They are the leading cause of time off work (50% of all absences of more than three days) and permanent incapacity for work (60%).

Most of the painful attacks due to MSDs last up to a fortnight and 20 to 40% of workers affected will experience new painful spells within the year, rising to 85% over a lifetime.

While 90% of workers return to work within two months, less than 50% of those who have not gone back to work after six months will ever do so. This means a significant loss of income which can tip the worker and his family into poverty. Social and family lives are disrupted (inability to cope alone, inability to care for one’s family, forced to give up some leisure activities, etc.), which tends to pile psychological distress onto sufferers’ physical pain.

These personal tragedies have big implications for society. There are no exact figures on the cost of MSDs to European business and society, but some Member States (the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, Finland and Denmark) have estimated it at between 0.5 and 2% of GDP.

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