March 2008

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Letter from Europe | March 2008

 


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European Good Practices to help cut Workplace Illness for Millions

Nine organisations have been honoured with a European Good Practice Award for helping to prevent musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) – the most common form of work-related illness in Europe. Across the EU, 25% of workers complain of backache and 23% report muscular pains. The winners were announced at the closing event of the ‘Lighten the Load’ campaign, organised by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA). The Agency also presented a new report setting out the latest scientific evidence on the issue.

“Musculoskeletal disorders are the number one workplace illness in Europe, affecting millions of workers and costing the economy up to 1.6% 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, 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 ‘Lighten the Load’ campaign aimed to promote an integrated approach to tackling MSDs while also helping workers affected by them continue in work. It complements the EU's new strategy for health and safety at work (2007–2012) which targets occupational ill health and aims to cut by a quarter work-related accidents across the EU.

Marjeta Cotman, Minister of Labour, Family and Social Affairs representing the Slovenian EU Presidency, added: “The recent campaign has focused on the promotion of a comprehensive approach to addressing the issue of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), covering both prevention and efforts to enable workers affected by these diseases to stay in companies and to take care of the rehabilitation of these workers and their reintegration into the work environment. 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.”

Jukka Takala, Director of EU-OSHA, pointed out that the Agency’s ‘Prevention Report’ gives many clues about how to tackle MSDs at the workplace. “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 organisational, technical and personal measures – will succeed in effectively preventing MSDs. Workers, employers and occupational safety and health professionals must work hand in hand.”

More than 500 delegates, including European Union policy-makers, social partners and leading safety and health experts, gathered at the Euskalduna Conference Centre in Bilbao, Spain on 26 February. The summit was the culmination of the ‘Lighten the Load’ campaign, which promoted an integrated management approach to tackling MSDs, embracing prevention and the retention, rehabilitation and reintegration of workers. In 2007, several hundred events were organised by EU-OSHA, its focal point network and other organisations across Europe.

At the summit, the delegates attended three parallel workshops on statistics, MSD prevention in the workplace and reintegration of workers with MSDs. Afterwards, nine organisations from six EU Member States received the European Good Practice Awards; an additional 11 entries were commended.

Among the winners were projects that

  • eliminated MSD problems experienced by handling heavy wooden pallets;

  • developed an ergonomically designed sewing workstation;

  • introduced a load moving system to reduce manual handling in a greenhouse.

[Source: European Union]

Award-winning

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