European Pillar of Social Rights & chronic pain

The rights and principles of the Pillar cover a wide range of issues. Following, a brief insight on the prospects for patients suffering from chronic pain. For this document, Active Citizenship Network thanks the communication office of the DG EMPL for the support.

At the European level, the chronic pain has a major impact on workforce participants and productivity and is not adequately acknowledged nor addressed: the European Union Information Agency for Occupational Safety and Health (EU-OSHA) has acknowledged that musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are one of the most common work-related ailments, and can result in high costs for employers. The European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) conducted a survey in 2017 on job quality in correlation to health and well-being of workers and its impact on absenteeism and presenteeism. It found that MSDs are one of the most common work-related complaints, with 43% reporting backaches, 41% with muscular pains in arms, and 35% reported headache, eyestrain and overall fatigue. It also noted that presenteeism increased costs and was associated with lower productivity. How the European Commission, starting from DG SANTE and DG EMPL, intends to involve the Member States to open a dialogue at national level with all the stakeholders, civic and patient associations, trade unions, business associations, insurance companies, etc, in order to meet the needs of European workers affected by chronic pathology and diseases?

First of all, It is important to emphasise that ergonomic risks are covered by the Framework Directive 89/391/EEC on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work as well as various specific EU directives: 2002/44 “vibration”, 90/269 “manual handling of loads” or 90/270 “work with display screen equipment”. Other EU directives could have an indirect impact on the prevention of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), such as work equipment or personal protective equipment directives.

Member States have transposed (and implemented) the existing EU OSH relevant directives in accordance to their national specificities and practices while respecting the minimum requirements laid down thereto. In addition, Member States also develop other non-regulatory approaches (e.g. awareness raising actions) for addressing ergonomics risks. It should also be recalled that since the EU OSH directives lay down minimum requirements, Member States can adopt more protective measures.

As regards future actions, In its conclusions of 5 December 2019 (cfr. Council conclusions doc. ref 14630/19), the Council under Finnish presidency invited the Commission to adopt a new EU Strategic Framework on Occupational Safety and Health for the period 2021-2027, paying particular attention to the identified challenges [including ergonomic risks]. The Council also invited the Commission to provide ergonomic guidance material relating to MSDs, including in particular awareness raising, practical tools, education and training, other than the material related to manual handling or display-screen work.

In order to address the challenges with regard to psychosocial risks and mental health and to prevent work related accidents and diseases, in particular MSDs, the Council also invited the Member States to:

  • Enhance health promotion and prevention of work-related diseases especially with regard to psychosocial and ergonomic risks as a part of the obligatory risk assessment carried out in workplaces.
  • Improve collaboration between employers and health care experts with the aim of decreasing work-related illnesses and accidents, with a particular attention devoted to mental disorders and MSDs.
  • Increase the awareness of MSDs at work and reduce the related risks throughout the course of life, in particular through co-operation between employment, health and education experts and structures.

The Commission is at the moment preparing a new EU Occupational Safety and Health Strategy. The contributions received from the stakeholders, e.g. the opinion of the tripartite Advisory Committee on Safety and Health at Work and the Senior Labour Inspectors’ Committee, other social partners and civic organisations as well as relevant Council conclusions will certainly constitute main elements for the development of the Strategy.

In light of the nature of this particular kind of occupational risks and the fact that they are already covered by the Framework directive, consideration will be given to promote effective application at workplace level, as well as to develop and implement concrete measures for embedding a prevention culture for combatting MSDs in the workplace. This would require the cooperation of all relevant stakeholders and social partners.

In the light of the current digital developments, there will be a need to assess the impact of introduction of robots for doing repetitive/monotonous/dangerous work and its impact to ergonomic risks in the future. The impact of telework as one of the aspects of coronavirus pandemic to MSDs and mental health will also have to be evaluated.

The EU OSH Strategy could also invite the Member States to include in their national strategies actions aiming at further promoting better application and enforcement.

In addition, it needs to be mentioned that in 2020-22, EU-OSHA will launch a campaign focusing on the prevention of work-related MSDs. The campaign will take a comprehensive view of the causes of this persistent problem. It aims to disseminate high-quality information on the subject, encourage an integrated approach to managing the problem, and offer practical tools and solutions that can help at workplace level.  Senior Labour Inspectors’ Committee is also at the moment preparing a campaign of better enforcement of requirements aiming to prevent exposure to risk factors causing MSDs.

April, 2020

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