The call for a designated European Directive on Musculoskeletal Disorders

Musculoskeletal Disorders in Health and Social Care beyond COVID-19

(19 September 2023) The COVID-19 pandemic brought the need for a dedicated Directive on Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) into sharp focus, according to a seminar on protecting European workers in the Health and Social Care sectors.

Researchers, social partners and European Commission representatives met on 12 September for a seminar titled ‘Musculoskeletal Disorders in Health and Social Care beyond COVID-19: how to improve protection for European workers in the sector.’ The meeting was chaired by Dietmar Erdmeier, vice-president of EPSU’s Health and Social Services Committee, and consisted of presentations from EU-OSHA and ETUI followed by reactions from Social Employers, HOSPEEM and the Commission.

Sarah Copsey (EU–OSHA) underlined that from 2014-2019 physical and psychosocial risk factors increased more in the healthcare sector than in other sectors. Physical risk factors are usually the main cause of MSDs, but psychosocial risk factors in the workplace can significantly increase the risk of developing MSDs, as well as exacerbating a pre-existing problem. Stress can also affect the body. It can lead to physiological changes in the body and persistent stress may lead to hormonal changes, increased muscle tension, changes to tissue repair mechanisms and increased pain awareness. Stress can lead to workers trying to work faster and not taking the breaks they need because they do not have time to think about the risks, putting the workers at even greater risk of MSDs. See the full presentation here.

Aude Cefaliello (ETUI) presented an analysis of the legal protection of workers at EU level. MSDs are the most common work-related health problem in the EU, and they are especially prevalent among workers in human health and social work activities. In 2004 the Commission noted a need for a directive addressing MSDs and the importance of raising awareness on MSD, though no directive has yet been implemented. The already existing European legal provisions are insufficient since they do not cover all types of situations and there is a clear gap in the quality of the working hours. The recognition of MSD as an occupational disease varies between countries, which affects compensation for workers. MSDs are multifactorial and therefore require a holistic approach that focuses on both how the work is organised and on the social climate. The lack of a European Directive means workers rely on the fragmented patchwork of legal provisions at the national level, and therefore workers in the EU are not protected equally. See the full presentation here.

Sylvian Renouvel, General Secretary, Social Employers highlighted the importance of this topic and emphasised that it will be tackled in the future working programme of the recently established European Social Dialogue Committee in Social Services. Leonie Martin, policy officer, HOSPEEM added that MSDs are a growing concern and that the European Social Dialogue in the Health and Hospital Sector has dedicated a lot of time to it, including in the updated Framework of Action on Recruitment and Retention. Solveiga Eidukynaite-Gerard, European Commission acknowledged that though there is a need to protect workers from the MSDs, the Commission is currently not in favour of having a dedicated directive on this topic.