European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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Musculoskeletal disorders

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are inflammatory and/or degenerative ailments affecting all sectors and all categories of workers. The biggest Europe-wide occupational health survey found 46% of European workers reporting back pain, while 43% had painful shoulder, neck and upper limb muscles.

MSDs are by far the most common work-related health problem in Europe. The social and economic consequences of this “pandemic” are now becoming abundantly clear. Millions of workers are no longer able to do certain tasks or even have to stop work altogether before retirement age. Even though MSDs are firstly connected with biomechanical loads (loads, frequencies, repetitions, vibrations), they also are inextricably linked to forms of work organization and the general trend to an increased work-related cognitive, sensory and psychosocial load.

The legislative framework established by the EU to prevent this type of work risk is clearly not good enough. The European trade union movement has for many years been calling for a comprehensive directive on MSDs that takes the impact of work organization and psychosocial factors into account.

A draft directive was submitted to the European social partners in early 2010. In early 2013, the European Commission gave in to business organization lobbying and dropped the idea of a directive in favour of a simple non-binding recommendation.