On 12 October 2020, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) started the initiative “Healthy Workplaces Lighten the Load!”, which focusses on work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSE). Three out of five workers suffer from this condition – high time to do something about it!
The problem is amplified by the Coronavirus crisis
According to the third European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER 3), psychological risks as well as musculoskeletal disorders (MSE) are the most frequently mentioned risks at the workplace. Cross-sectoral, MSE are the most common health problem across Europe with dramatic consequences: millions of workers are affected by these disorders and the annual economic costs reach billions. In particular in the current coronavirus crisis, during which many workers have switched to working from home and teleworking, even more people are affected by work-related back and neck pain. However, a good working environment could easily and cost-effectively prevent MSE.
EU-OSHA focusses on preventing MSE
Based on a two-year thematic focus, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) wants to raise awareness of the risks and the prevention of MSE and presents possible measures and best practice examples on a homepage. Christa Sedlatschek, Executive Director of EU-OSHA, presented the key aspects of “Healthy Workplaces Lighten the Load!” within the scope of the press conference on 12 October 2020. Many of these are related to prevention: the causes for work-related MSE are many and varied and reach from sitting or standing in the same position over prolonged periods via heavy carrying or lifting without lifting aids up to long working hours and shift work. Another aim is to support workers with chronic MSE in the course of their activities or in respect of their reintegration. Risks, resulting from digitalisation and applying new technologies, shall also be assessed. In particular the latter has also gained in significance in view of Coronavirus-related spread of teleworking.
Here, Sedlatschek also referred to the particularly difficult position of working parents, who suddenly found themselves in the situation where they had to work from home and at the same time had to look after their children. What was required was a clear statement by employers, which had to convey the clear message to workers, that working from home in a household with children is only possible under adapted conditions – work requirements had to be adapted to the needs of workers, and reduced if necessary.
Support by Presidency and Commission
Both EU Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, Nicolas Schmit, as well as the German Presidency of the Council of the EU, represented by Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Hubertus Heil, promised to support the EU-OSHA Campaign within the scope of the press conference. A week after the European kick-off event, the Campaign will also start in Austria within the scope of an online event on 20.10.2020.
AK and ÖGB Initiative “Health at Work”
For years, the aim of improving worker protection with regard to musculoskeletal disorders has been actively supported by both the European Trade Union Confederation and the European Trade Union Institute, as well as by AK and ÖGB, among other by the “Health at Work” Initiative. Finally, a key role for a successful campaign must also be played by the social partners. Only they can ensure, that the contents and measures are actually implemented by employers and reach the workers.