Factors such as working time, job security and management support have more of an impact on musculoskeletal disorders than an employee’s sociodemographic group or sector of employment, a study has shown.
Research by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) looked at whether mental health concerns such as stress and mental exhaustion were linked to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and what preventative strategies could be implemented to tackle MSDs.
MSDs are the most common work-related health problem in the European Union, according to EU-OHSA. Around 60% of all workers with a work-related health problem suggest that MSDs are their most serious health issue, compared with only 16% who cited stress, depression or anxiety as their most serious condition.
The study finds that job characteristics can have a significant influence on both employee wellbeing and MSD-related risk, but in different ways.
It finds that:
- Job characteristics that have a strong positive correlation with wellbeing, such as supportive management, have a strong negative correlation with MSDs, and vice versa
- Working conditions, in particular “biomechanical factors” – such as the physical stress on the body – have the strongest influence on MSD risk, while employment conditions such as working time-related factors and psychosocial factors have larger effects on wellbeing
- The combined effect of biomechanical and psychosocial factors is larger than the effects of economic factors (sector, occupation), worker characteristics (gender, age, education, origin) or country on MSD risk.
The report says: “Recent trends in the labour market, in particular digitalisation, the increase in computer use and the reduction in physical labour, even in industry, have resulted in faster and more complex work, more repetition and more work in prolonged static positions and when adopting bad postures, for instance while working from home at an unadjusted workstation.
“These trends may be associated with an increase in mental health problems, such as stress and mental exhaustion, as well as physical health problems, including MSDs.”
Although some workplace characteristics may be more difficult to disentangle from the nature of the job, the report concludes that the psychosocial factors that have a strong influence on MSDs or wellbeing, including adverse social behaviour, atypical working time, job security, supportive management and worker participation, “can be assessed and then addressed, eliminated or reduced”.
It added that greater job autonomy may empower workers, but it may also be related to poorer work-life balance, overwork or isolation, and does not lead to a reduction in MSD or wellbeing risk.
“Workplace risk assessments focusing on negative health outcomes should take into account that the relationship between MSDs and wellbeing goes in two directions, so a holistic approach to risk assessment is most likely to be successful,” the report concludes.
“Further development of guidelines and the exchange of best practices between companies on how to prevent psychosocial risks and create a healthy company culture are needed.”
The study used sample data covering job characteristics and health outcomes across 27 EU member states.