Thought leader | Fit for Work: Musculoskeletal disorders

Written by Klaus Machold on 29 September 2014 in Thought Leader
Thought Leader

The EU must push for a better alignment between Europe's work and health agendas, writes Klaus Machold

The 2010 report on the global burden of disease published by the institute for health metrics and evaluation states that "[musculoskeletal diseases (MSDs) are] the primary cause of disability in [Europe]." Indeed, MSDs affect 100 million Europeans and as much as 50 per cent of member states' working-age populations could be diagnosed with a chronic MSD by 2030.

With such a significant portion of the working-age population at risk for developing MSDs, productivity at the employer, national and European levels could be severely impacted. We need to develop innovative solutions to address this health crisis – and we need to act now.

"By underscoring the benefits employers stand to reap from investing in a healthy workforce, we can ensure people with MSDs receive the treatment they need to continue to lead active, productive lives"

In light of the threat MSDs pose to Austria's workforce — more than 20 per cent of Austrian workers report work-related muscle pain and another 23.9 percent report work-related back pain – we have just launched an MSD screening initiative in Vienna. Instead of having the patients come to us, however, we are going to where the patients are – into their places of work.

By taking the counselling process into the workplace, we want to make it as easy as possible for people to receive a diagnosis. Through early intervention, we can make an impact on the progression of a person's MSD – to the benefit of the patient and to their place of work.

Under the auspices of Fit for Work, a multi-stakeholder coalition working toward a better alignment between the work and health agendas in the EU, we have partnered with the Otto Wagner hospital, one of the largest in Vienna with over 2700 staff. Through their internal health promotion programme, the hospital is offering a simple, three-step MSD screening programme to staff to jump-start the diagnosis process.

We expect to see a number of benefits through this pilot project, including quick and easy access to specialists for patients, greater efficiency in the diagnosis process and, in the long run, better cost-containment for both the health and social systems through early intervention, which leads to fewer sick-days and faster return to- work times for MSD sufferers.

Workplace early intervention initiatives could also be expanded to address other health issues. To do that, however, there needs to be a coordinated effort on the part of national and European leaders to place early intervention squarely on the sustainable healthcare agenda.

"By underscoring the benefits employers stand to reap from investing in a healthy workforce, we can ensure people with MSDs receive the treatment they need to continue to lead active, productive lives"

The European health forum Gastein is fast approaching, where we hope to see sustainable solutions emerge that promote healthcare partnerships that include employers. It is not only in the interest of employers to promote a healthy work environment and lifestyle among their staff, it is their responsibility.

By underscoring the benefits employers stand to reap from investing in a healthy workforce, we can ensure people with MSDs receive the treatment they need to continue to lead active, productive lives and that companies have the specialised, skilled workforce they require to contribute to a competitive Europe.

About the author

Klaus Machold is associate rheumatology professor at the Medical University of Vienna

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