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25/03/2021

Discover how countries across Europe apply policy initiatives to tackle MSDs

Whether targeting a specific sector, a group of workers or as part of occupational safety and health (OSH) strategies, policy initiatives have shown to be successful in reducing the prevalence of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in workplaces across Europe. These serve not only as a basis for further action, but also as transferable examples to policy makers and social partners in other countries.

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© EU-OSHA / Arpad Pinter

Putting MSDs at the heart of a national wellbeing at work strategy

MSDs affect more than half of workers in Belgium, according to labour survey data from Eurostat. As a result, the prevention of MSDs was included as a priority in the Belgian National Strategy for Wellbeing at Work 2016-2020. This recognition has driven the introduction of a series of campaigns and initiatives, often building on EU-level initiatives. By addressing the health of the workforce, the strategic approach adopted takes a broader, more holistic, ‘wellbeing’ viewpoint. It emphasises the benefits of MSD prevention not just from the perspective of the worker but also for the employer and for society.

A key feature of the Belgian national strategy has been the collaboration with experts in universities and research institutes. This has provided a sound evidence-based approach for developing the material used in the various campaigns. For example, a website was developed for the ‘When a worker suffers, the whole business is affected!’ campaign, which aims to raise awareness about MSDs, their prevention and the tools available. An online game called ‘The Flexaminator’ was also created as part of another campaign to introduce young people to MSDs to inform them about the origin of MSDs and their prevention, for example using appropriate tools and good techniques and by adopting good posture.

Prevention initiatives in the HORECA sector

In Austria, the Labour Inspectorate developed an initiative to promote the prevention of psychosocial and ergonomic risk factors and related health problems among workers in the HORECA sector. The initiative focused on guidance visits to businesses, and follow-up inspections to ensure that deficiencies identified in the first phase – relating for example to work organisation, workload or time pressure – had been addressed. This idea of combining enforcement with awareness raising and guidance proved an important success factor in the initiative, one that is easily replicated in other sectors and countries.

The initiative has resulted in more prevention measures being implemented, employers becoming better informed about prevention measures and their legal responsibilities, and more workers receiving the proper prevention guidance on MSDs. The specific focus on the HORECA sector also allowed for the targeting of SMEs, in which the awareness and implementation of workplace risk assessment is often insufficient.

Improving working environments for women

In Sweden, the government assigned the Swedish Work Environment Authority (SWEA) to increase knowledge and awareness about the status of women’s occupational health, including their higher risk for developing MSDs. The aim was then to generate and disseminate that knowledge to key players with the capacity to change working conditions and the work environment. The SWEA also developed better methods of highlighting the risks of MSDs during workplace inspections.

The focus on gender differences and the specific risks faced by women at different levels in the workplace (e.g. occupational, sectoral, organisational and psychosocial), while highly innovative, is easily replicated in other workplaces. As with the Belgian example, generating evidence that can inform policy and action was key – as was the mainstreaming of the gender perspective in SWEA’s regular activities and inspections.

Find out more

The examples above represent just a few of the successful policy initiatives to reduce the prevalence of MSDs. You can find other such examples in the cases studies section of the campaign website and find out how to eliminate obstacles to implementation in our previous article on breaking down the barriers to effectively tackling MSDS. Finally, be sure to follow the campaign on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for further updates.