In 2017, EU-OSHA started a 4-year research activity on work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) concluding at the end of 2020. The research activity leads in to EU-OSHA’s 2020-22 Healthy Workplaces Campaign, which focuses on MSDs.
The activity’s aim is to promote and support prevention of MSDs and management of chronic work-related MSDs in the workplace. This is achieved by identifying, raising awareness of and providing guidance on good practice for national authorities, employers and sector-level organisations.
The activity’s objectives are:
- to use existing research and new data to improve understanding of the underlying causes of MSDs in various sectors and occupations;
- to identify successful initiatives to prevent and manage MSDs and promote them among a wide audience;
- to stimulate discussion on supporting national-level preventive measures among policy-makers and occupational safety and health (OSH) professionals;
- to promote successful long-term reintegration of workers with MSDs by identifying effective schemes and measures.
The research tasks include literature reviews, collecting and analysing data, case studies, and identifying best practices, practical tools and training and awareness-raising materials.
There are a number of strands to the projects and other activities.
Research, policy and practice on MSDs prevention
Work-related MSDs remain a major concern despite decades of investment in preventing them at all levels. This project asks why that is and recommends new approaches to tackling the issue, in particular:
- improving our understanding of emerging risks for and factors that contribute to work-related MSDs;
- identifying the related challenges;
- identifying gaps in current strategies at both policy and workplace levels;
- investigating the effectiveness and quality of workplace interventions and risk assessments.
Overview of facts and figures on MSDs
We need an accurate picture of the prevalence, costs and demographics of MSDs across Europe to support policy-makers at EU and national levels.
The project provides this by pulling together and analysing data from relevant and reliable official sources to improving our understanding of the underlying causes of MSDs. This facilitates and encourages more and better targeted policy instruments at EU and national levels.
The project also aims to enable earlier identification of new and emerging risks at work, allowing more timely and effective interventions.
As part of this project an EU overview report and 10 national reports (along with a synthesis report of these reports) that enriches and complements the findings presented in the project’s final overview report were published.
Working with chronic MSDs
OSH plays a role in supporting workers with painful MSDs to keep working and ensuring that work does not make their condition worse. This is achieved by identifying and assessing suitable adjustments that enable workers to continue in their jobs.
This research builds on the return-to-work element of the project on health and safety of older workers. It aims to increase knowledge and improve access to key information to support the employment of people with MSD-related pain.
Practical solutions are identified, including simple measures to support continued working and a resource to encourage workers to report symptoms early.
Training resources for the workplace
Resources are provided to support vocational training and induction training and for use in safety briefings and workplace OSH discussions. These build on the resources already produced to help teachers run classroom activities on MSDs for pupils aged 7 to 11 using Napo films.
The film Napo in … lighten the load is entirely devoted to MSDs, and Napo in … Back to a healthy future features scenes relating to MSDs. Each relevant scene in the films has a training activity with learning objectives and an activity overview. The materials are ideal for discussions or group work after watching the Napo film.
The project also provides ‘conversation starters’ describing real-life MSD-related workplace situations, which are also ideal for group discussions. Each situation provides just enough information to understand the issue and the context, leaving participants to explore solutions together.
Toolbox for MSDs prevention
A suite of practical tools is assembled to increase knowledge about MSDs and support workplace-level prevention.
The main project output is a publicly accessible database containing links to existing resources on MSDs across Europe:
- case studies
- practical tools
- audiovisual materials
Diversity in the workforce and MSDs
Europe’s workforce is becoming ever more diverse as a result of:
- the influx of migrant and refugee workers;
- the growing number of second-generation migrant workers;
- more women in the labour market;
- more older workers, thanks to active ageing policies;
- improved visibility and participation of LGBTI workers;
- increased participation of workers with disabilities.
These groups often experience worse than average working conditions. They are often segregated into specific sectors or jobs associated with poor working conditions, a higher risk of MSDs and a greater impact on health.
This project presents evidence on the relationship between MSDs and workforce diversity and identifies good practices in the area, with a focus on migrant workers, female and LGBTI workers.
Musculoskeletal health and future workers
EU-OSHA is working closely with ENETOSH to gather information about research, good practice and practical tools on MSDs targeting young people. Main outputs are included in the MSDs database developed under the project ‘Toolbox for MSDs prevention’ and Healthy Workplaces Campaign activities.
Prolonged static postures and MSDs
More and more attention is being given to MSDs associated with prolonged sitting and standing.
The incidence of prolonged sitting has increased (e.g. in office work), but limited practical prevention advice is available. Prolonged standing is a risk factor for lower back pain and lower limb disorders.
This project raises awareness of and provides practical advice on the risks of and solutions to prolonged static sitting and standing.
Worker participation to prevent MSDs
‘Participatory ergonomics’ refers to workers, supervisors and other relevant parties jointly identifying and addressing the work-related hazards that can lead to injuries and health problems. Participants are encouraged to identify and remove the risks in their workplaces that can cause or aggravate MSDs.
Examples include working in awkward positions, doing repetitive work and having to apply force. The process can help employers to implement the most effective solutions.
However, there is a lack of awareness of the process and knowledge about how to carry it out in practice. The project provides information and simple resources to address these needs, including case studies.
Other available resources:
- Participatory ergonomics and preventing musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace Discussion paper
- Carrying out participatory ergonomics OSHwiki article
- Body mapping for MSDs - using individual body maps OSHwiki article
- Hazard mapping and MSDs OSHwiki article
- Body and hazard mapping in the prevention of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) Information sheet
Psychosocial risk factors and MSDs
There is evidence suggesting that psychosocial risks and MSDs are so closely interrelated that they are best tackled together. The consensus is that many factors contribute to the development of MSDs at work, particularly physical aspects (awkward working positions, forceful movements, repetitive tasks, etc.).
Recent research has focused on the psychosocial elements of workplace MSDs, e.g. low job satisfaction, competing demands, little control over work and poor social support.
This project enhances our understanding of the links between psychosocial risks and MSDs by providing guidance and examples of good practice.
Teleworking has helped businesses evolve and survive the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has put workers at greater risk of musculoskeletal disorders and mental health problems. In this area EU-OSHA is carrying out a number of research activities aimed to investigate more in depth this way of working and its implications for OSH from a workers’, employers’, and policy-makers’ perspective.
Sectoral and thematic resources
MSDs are of particular concern in some economic sectors and for workers employed in a number of occupations. Research has been carried out to analyse how MSDs impact on sectors and occupation and findings are presented in thematic articles and other resources.