The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) is calling on the European Commission to take practical measures to tackle musculoskeletal disorders in Europe. On 12 October, the trade union organisation stated in a press release that ‘The epidemic of back, shoulder, neck, elbow, hand and knee pain [is] costing workers severe loss of quality of life and millions of days off work.’
‘Back pain is crippling Europe,’ says Esther Lynch, ETUC Confederal Secretary responsible for health and safety at work. ‘Nearly 9 million working days were lost in France from back pain and other musculoskeletal problems, and it will only get worse with Europe’s ageing workforce.’
The ETUC estimates at €163 billion the socio-economic costs associated with workers’ exposure to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in the European Union.
In 2013, the European Commission refused to support a directive on ‘ergonomics in the workplace’ proposed by employers and trade unions, and instead issued a non-binding recommendation.
‘It’s time for the Commission to admit that its recommendation is not enough,’ says Lynch. ‘More needs to be done.’
‘Musculoskeletal disorders’ is an umbrella term for dozens of medical conditions related, among other causes, to poor work posture, excessive strain, repetitive movements, handling of heavy loads, use of vibrating tools or working in cold temperatures.
The biggest Europe-wide occupational health survey found 46% of European workers reporting that they suffered from backache, while 43% had muscular pains in their shoulders, neck and/or upper limbs.
To find out more about MSDs, visit the pages of the ETUI website that focus on this issue.
Yves Roquelaure (Ergonomics and Epidemiology Laboratory for Occupational Health)
Jacques Malchaire (Catholic University of Louvain)