Millions of workers across Europe suffer from work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). About three in every five workers in the European Union report MSD complaints, based on data from the sixth European Working Conditions Survey.
Work-related MSDs are impairments of bodily structures, such as muscles, joints and tendons, that are caused or aggravated primarily by work or the effects of the immediate work environment. They can be highly detrimental to an individual’s quality of life and ability to work, and are one of the most common causes of disability, sick leave and early retirement.
The most common work-related MSDs are backache and pains in the upper limbs. Physical, organisational, psychosocial and individual factors can contribute to their development.
According to the 2019 European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks, the most frequently identified risk factor in the EU-27 is repetitive hand or arm movements (reported by 65 % of establishments). Other MSD-related risks include prolonged sitting (61 %) — often considered a new or emerging MSD risk — lifting or moving people or heavy loads (52 %), time pressure (45 %), and tiring or painful positions (31 %).
Although MSDs are preventable, they remain the most common work-related health problem in Europe. This is cause for concern not only because of their effects on the health of individual workers, but also because of their detrimental impact on businesses and national economies.