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29/09/2020

Safety and health at work – and prevention of MSDs - more important than ever in times of Covid-19

The health and safety of workers and the protection of jobs and rights have been the priority of the European trade union movement throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. When the restrictions relaxed to achieve a gradual return to economic activity, the ETUC demanded guarantees that the health and safety of workers is fully protected. 

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The pandemic and its consequences, if not properly and timely addressed, will generate economic recession, massive unemployment, deterioration of working conditions and rights, increased inequalities and social exclusion. The issue of Occupational Safety and Health needs to be a fundamental part of the EU strategy for limiting the spread of the virus and for maintaining economic activity.

Besides the challenges of Covid-19 and the enduring consequences that it will have for the European labour market and economy, there are long-standing challenges in matters of occupational safety and health for which it is high time to take action.

 As shown by the main findings of the last edition of ESENER, the third European survey of enterprises on new and emerging risks by EU-OSHA, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and psychosocial risks are the main risk factors reported by European workplaces in 2019. Even though MSDs are firstly connected with biomechanical loads (loads, frequencies, repetitions, vibrations), they are also inextricably linked to forms of work organization and the general trend of an increased work-related cognitive, sensory, and psychosocial load. MSDs are the reason why millions of workers in the EU are no longer able to do certain tasks or even have to stop working altogether before retirement age.

The European trade union movement believes that a more comprehensive EU legislation on MSDs is needed, and the member states should include MSDs in their national strategies. There is also a need for training and awareness-raising on MSDs of workers as well as a key role of health and safety representatives in this regard.

The ETUC supports an ambitious approach when dealing with MSDs in the EU. European action is needed on physical risk factors dealing with the huge problems of MSDs and focusing on effective prevention at the workplace. A gender sensitive approach is particularly relevant in preventing MSDs among women.

The ETUC supports the EU-OSHA Campaign 2020-22 Healthy Workplaces Lighten the Load.

Luca Visentini (ETUC General Secretary)

Per Hilmersson (ETUC Deputy General Secretary)