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You are here: Home Topics Musculoskeletal Disorders European legal requirements relating to work-related MSDs

European legal requirements relating to work-related MSDs


European legal requirements relating to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) include international conventions and standards, European Directives and European standards.

At the international level, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has issued several conventions that relate to MSDs. Before these conventions became legal obligations, they had to be ratified by a certain number of states.

At European level, several Directives have been published, relating directly or indirectly to MSDs. A European Directive requires national implementing legislation in each Member State before it comes into effect there. Generally, a Directive fixes the agreed objectives to be pursued by the EU Member States, but leaves freedom of choice in how to reach them. These Directives are supplemented by a series of European EN standards, which fill out the details and enable them to be implemented.

The International Organisation of Standardisation (ISO) has published international standards which deal with ergonomic requirements for work stations, methods of risk assessment and other aspects related to MSDs.

ILO conventions

  • C127 – Maximum weight convention
    Adoption date: 28.06.1967
    Most important requirements:
    1. no worker shall transport a load which, by reason of its weight, is likely to jeopardise their health or safety;
    2. any worker assigned to the manual transportation of loads must receive adequate training or instruction;
    3. where possible, suitable technical devices must be used for the manual transportation of loads.
  • C148 – Working environment (air pollution, noise and vibration) 
    Adoption date: 20.06.1977 
    Most important requirements:
    1. as far as possible the working environment must be kept free from vibration hazards;
    2. if necessary, the employer must provide personal protective equipment;
    3. all persons concerned must be informed and instructed in ways of minimising vibration risks.
  • C155 – Occupational safety and health 
    Adoption date: 22.06.2001 
    This convention obliges policymakers and employers to ensure that workplaces, machinery and equipment are safe and without risk to health.
  • C167 – Safety and health in construction 
    Adoption date: 20.06.1988
    This convention only applies to construction workers. It includes requirements for lifting appliances, lifting gear, transport equipment, earth-moving equipment and material-handling equipment in the construction sector.
  • C184 – Safety and health in agriculture 
    Adoption date: 21.06.2001
    This convention only applies to workers in agriculture. It includes requirements for machinery safety and ergonomics, and for the handling and transportation of materials in the agricultural sector.

European Directives

  • 89/391/EEC 
    This general Framework Directive, on measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers, does not relate directly to MSDs. However, it does oblige employers to take the necessary measures to safeguard workers' safety and health in every aspect of their work.
  • 89/654/EEC
    This Directive concerns the minimum safety and health requirements both for workplaces currently in use and workplaces that are used for the first time. The requirements concerning freedom of movement at workstations are of interest for the prevention of MSDs.
  • 89/655/EEC - 89/656/EEC
    Directives 89/655/EEC and 89/656/EEC cover the suitability of work equipment and personal protective equipment, which affects the risk of MSDs. All personal protective equipment must take account of ergonomic requirements and the worker’s state of health, and it must fit the wearer correctly after any necessary adjustment.
  • 90/269/EEC
    This Directive describes employers' obligations concerning the manual handling of loads when there is a risk of back injury.
  • 90/270/EEC
    This Directive sets out minimum safety and health requirements for work with display screen equipment, the environment and the operator/computer interface. Employers must evaluate the safety and health risks associated with workstations, and take appropriate steps to remedy them.
  • 93/104/EC
    This Directive concerns the organisation of working time. Factors such as repetitive work, monotonous work and fatigue can increase the risk of MSDs. Requirements are set out in this Directive relating to breaks, weekly rest, annual leave, night work, shift work and work patterns.
  • 98/37/EC
    This Directive deals with machinery. Machinery design must take into account ergonomic principles, so that the discomfort, fatigue and psychological stress of the operator is reduced to a minimum. Ergonomic principles must also be applied to control devices, personal protective equipment and driving seats. Machinery must be so designed that risks resulting from vibration are reduced to a minimum. The Directive also includes important information on protection against mechanical hazards, such as the risk of break-up during operation.
  • 2002/44/EC
    This Directive sets out exposure limits and values for hand-arm and whole-body vibration. Employers must assess the risks, avoid or reduce exposure, and inform and train their workers in minimising vibration risks. The Directive also sets out requirements concerning the monitoring of workers' health.
  • 2006/42/EC
    This Directive deals with machinery, interchangeable equipment, safety components, lifting accessories, chains, ropes and webbing, removable mechanical transmission devices and partly completed machinery. It also covers essential health and safety requirements relating to the design and construction of machinery.


Only the most relevant to MSDs standards are described in more detail.

  • EN 614: Safety of machinery – Ergonomic design principles
    This basic standard sets out rules which should be applied especially in the process of designing machinery. It sets out ergonomic rules for designers taking into account the health and safety of the operator, in all areas of their activities. The standard consists of two parts:
    1. EN 614-1: Safety of machinery – Ergonomic design principles.
      Terminology and design principles
      This sets out general rules related to the design process, taking account of anthropometry and biomechanics, control actuators, interactions with the physical work environment, noise, vibration, thermal emissions, illumination, hazardous materials and radiation, as well as interactions in the work process.
    2. EN 614-2: Safety of machinery – Ergonomic design principles.
      Interaction between machinery design and work tasks
      This sets out the main rules for integrating ergonomics in the design process. It describes characteristics of well-designed work tasks, methods of work process design, and the assessment of work process design.
  • EN 1005: Safety of machinery. Human physical performance
    This standard provides detailed information on the musculoskeletal risks associated with work tasks, and ways of reducing them. The standard consists of five parts: four are already approved, while one is being prepared by the “Ergonomics” Technical Committee CEN/TC 122.
    1. EN 1005-1: Safety of machinery. Human physical performance.
      Terms and definitions
      This covers terms and definitions, basic concepts and parameters related to all parts of EN 1005. These terms and definitions concern the movement of limbs during work, types of grip, objects found in workstations, posture, work duration and recovery.
    2. EN 1005-2: Safety of machinery. Human physical performance.
      Manual handling of machinery and component parts of machinery
      This provides ergonomic recommendations for the design of machinery and component parts which involve manual handling in professional and domestic settings. It applies to the manual handling of machinery, component parts, and objects processed by the machine (input/output) of 3 kg or more, which are carryied less than 2 m. It presents methods for risk assessment in relation to manual handling, using a three zone system. It does not cover the holding of objects (without walking), pushing or pulling of objects, hand-held machines, or handling while seated.
    3. EN 1005-3: Safety of machinery. Human physical performance. 
      Recommended force limits when operating machinery
      This provides guidance to manufacturers of machinery in minimising health risks posed by the exertion of muscular force The standard specifies methods of assessing muscle capability in the adult population. Muscle forces are considered both when the body is static and when it is moving. The standard also sets out a procedure for assessing the risk of overload during work, which may result in musculoskeletal disorders.
    4. prEN-1005-4: Safety of machinery. Human physical performance.
      Evaluation of working postures in relation to machinery
      This provides guidance for designing machinery and its components, helping to assess and control the health risks that are due to machine-related posture and movement. The standard establishes different types and degrees of trunk bending, upper arm posture, neck bending and twisting and gaze direction. Working postures are classified as acceptable, conditionally acceptable and unacceptable, depending on their type and on the frequency of movement.
    5. prEN 1005-5: Safety of machinery. Human physical performance.
      Risk assessment for repetitive handling
      This provides a method of risk assessment, and guidance on reducing the health risks of repetitive handling. The standard enables the risk of musculoskeletal disorders to be determined, especially considering the effects of repetitive tasks on the upper limbs.
  • EN ISO 9241: Ergonomic requirements for office work with visual display terminals (VDTs)
    1. EN ISO 9241-4: Ergonomic requirements for office work with visual display terminals (VDTs). Keyboard requirements.
      This standard applies to keyboard designs for stationary use, and provides guidelines on the design of keyboards used for typical office tasks, focusing on the limitations and capabilities of users. It relates to aspects of general keyboard design that can affect MSDs, such as the slope of the keyboard, its surface profile and material properties as well as keyboard placement.
    2. EN ISO 9241-5: Ergonomic requirements for office work with visual display terminals (VDTs). Workstation layout and postural requirements
      This standard sets out ergonomic guiding principles which apply to the user requirements, design, and procurement of workstation equipment for office tasks using VDTs. It provides general information on posture, support surfaces, work chairs and layout in the work space. 
    3. EN ISO 9241-9: Ergonomic requirements for office work with visual display terminals (VDTs). Requirements for non-keyboard input devices.
      This standard sets out requirements and recommendations for the design of non-keyboard input devices. These include mice, pucks, joysticks, trackballs, tablets and overlays, touch-sensitive screens, styli, and light pens. The standard relates to biomechanical load with special consideration of posture (operation without undue deviation from a natural posture), effort (operation without excessive effort) and user training.
  • prEN 13921: Personal protective equipment – Ergonomic principles
    This standard provides guidance on the generic ergonomic characteristics related to personal protective equipment (PPE). It deals especially with principles relating to the anthropometric characteristics of PPE, and biomechanical interaction between PPE and the human body.
  • EN ISO 12100: Safety of machinery. Basic concepts, general principles for design
    1. EN ISO 12100-1: Safety of machinery. Basic concepts, general principles for design. Basic terminology, methodology
    2. EN ISO 12100-2: Safety of machinery. Basic concepts, general principles for design. Technical principles
      These standards show how machinery that is ill-suited to human characteristics and capabilities can lead to physiological (musculoskeletal) disorders, as well as psycho-physiological problems and increased human error. The standards include guidance on ergonomic aspects such as avoiding uncomfortable positions, noise, ease of use, and vibration.

National regulations of interest

  • Directive 90/269/EEC on the minimum safety and health requirements for manual handling of loads, where there is a risk particularly of back injury most Member State interpretations of the Directive concentrate on setting maximum loads. Some national laws take a more comprehensive approach, however.
    The Swedish regulations, for example, cover all work postures and movements. Factory inspectorate guidance on the implementation of the regulations is much wider in scope than the Directive, covering all repetitive work, work postures, ergonomic design of work equipment and areas, and the need for workers to change to different types of work and to take breaks when they feel the need, as well as the more obvious specific matters relating to heavy lifting tasks. Employers have to assess the links between mechanical and psychosocial risk factors for MSDs, and have to provide guidance on how to carry out risk assessments in various situations.
  • Directive 90/270/EEC on the minimum health and safety requirements for work with display screen equipment
    The Directive restricts health surveillance to eye and eyesight tests, but does not focus on other health hazards (especially MSDs). The French and Belgian transposing legislation obliges workers who use display screen equipment to undergo special medical surveillance - the content of which is not specified - which allows the occupational health services to devote more time to preventive health activities for such workers. In Finland the task of medical surveillance has been expressly extended to ‘general health’ and in Italy to ‘musculoskeletal disorders’.