Nine EU Agencies Honored for MSD Prevention Programs

Nine agencies in Britain, Germany, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, and Slovenia were honored last week by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA, http://osha.europa.eu/) for helping to prevent musculoskeletal disorders in a variety of industries. Each of the nine received a European Good Practice Award, and EU-OSHA said their efforts may help millions of workers. MSDs are the most common form of work-related illness in Europe, with 25 percent of workers complaining of back aches and 23 percent of muscle pains.

The winners were announced at the closing event of the Lighten the Load campaign. "Musculoskeletal disorders are the number-one workplace illness in Europe, affecting millions of workers and costing the economy up to 1.6 percent of GDP. We can no longer afford to waste Europe's potential and have to 'lighten the load' on all workers suffering from MSD," said Vladimír Špidla, the EU commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities. "This campaign has helped to raise awareness of this huge issue, and the good practices will help us prevent future suffering."

The campaign promoted an integrated approach to MSD prevention and helping workers affected by them continue in work. EU-OSHA considers it complementary to the EU's 2007-2012 strategy for reducing work-related incidents by 25 percent. "We firmly believe that this year's European campaign has contributed to improving the work environment of the European worker, making it better, less stressful, and healthier, and that the joint European campaign will contribute to reducing the levels of work-related injury and professional disease," said Marjeta Cotman, minister of Labour, Family and Social Affairs representing the Slovenian EU Presidency.

Jukka Takala, EU-OSHA's director, said its Prevention Report gives many clues about how to tackle MSDs at work. "It suggests, for example, that the introduction of additional breaks into repetitive work will significantly decrease MSDs and may be achievable without loss of productivity. It also emphasizes that only a multidisciplinary approach -- including organizational, technical, and personal measures -- will succeed in effectively preventing MSDs. Workers, employers, and occupational safety and health professionals must work hand in hand."

Austrian labor authorities published a report last week that attributed 40 percent of all lost-time cases there to MSDs. Absenteeism and the average duration of lost-time cases have risen, according to the report, which estimates MSDs may be costing as much as 3.1 percent of the country's GDP.

The winning projects included programs to assist workers in the automotive manufacturing industry and workers handling heavy wooden pallets, development of an ergonomically designed sewing workstation; adding a load moving system to reduce manual handling in a greenhouse, and reducing high levels of physical stress and back and knee complaints suffered by road construction workers.

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