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Sheila Pantry Associates Ltd


Focus Archive

Fit for work? Musculoskeletal Disorders in the European Workforce

October 2009

A healthy workforce means a healthy economy. Yet conventional measures to improve productivity, from investment in skills, technology and innovation to labour market deregulation, fail to take account of one of the most serious barriers to growing prosperity: poor workforce health. Despite relative prosperity in Europe, we must face up to the fact that the European workforce may not be healthy enough to drive the improvements in productivity required to ensure that Europe can compete with the USA and China. Indeed, in a post-recession Europe, poor worker well-being may represent a serious impediment to economic growth and competitiveness.

Having a significant proportion of Europe's working age population either temporarily or permanently unable to work through ill-health - even in a favourable economic climate - can reduce the aggregate level of labour productivity in an economy and damage the competitiveness and effectiveness of private and public sector organisations. In depressed labour markets, there is a heightened risk that those with long-term or chronic health conditions will find themselves detached from the workplace for long periods, with little prospect of returning quickly.

Fit for Work Europe - a focus on musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)

Over 44 million (one in six) members of the European Union (EU) workforce now have a long-standing health problem or disability that affects their ability to work, and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) - conditions affecting bones, joints and connective tissue - account for a higher proportion of sickness absence from work than any other health condition. Indeed, over 40 million workers in Europe are affected by MSDs attributable to their work.

This report is the product of a major study - Fit for Work Europe - conducted by The Work Foundation across 23 European countries ( The study has looked in some detail at:

Specifically, the report looks at the impact of low back pain and work-related upper limb disorders (WRULDs) - two groups of conditions which are usually characterised by short but intense episodes of pain and incapacity - and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and spondyloarthropathy (SpA), two inflammatory conditions that are often progressive and increasingly incapacitating.

See the full report:
Fit For Work? Musculoskeletal Disorders in the European Workforce
by Stephen Bevan, Tatiana Quadrello, Robin McGee, Michelle Mahdon, Anna Vavrovsky and Leela Barham.
Work Foundation, 2009, 144 pages