"Healthy workplaces – Identifying and proceeding with the work-related musculoskeletal disorders. Sensitization and prevention in enterprises in selected sectors

The international seminar "Healthy workplaces – Identifying and proceeding with the work-related musculoskeletal disorders. Sensitization and prevention in enterprises in selected sectors" took place in Kołobrzeg / Poland on 21-23.02.2020, organized by KK NSZZ "Solidarność" (Komisja Krajowa NSZZ "Solidarność") with the support of EZA and of the European Union.

The meeting was attended by 50 representatives of workers’ organisations from Austria, Czech Republic, France, Spain, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and Romania.

The aim of the seminar was to discuss and exchange experiences on the prevention of health risks associated with MSDs with a particular focus on workers in the banking, construction, health, transport and automotive industries. Participants had the opportunity to learn more about the activities undertaken by other trade unions and working environment regulators in individual countries as well as at European level.

The meeting was opened by Elżbieta Wielg, NSZZ "Solidarność", who welcomed the participants and presented a two-day seminar programme. Then she gave the floor to Jerzy Jaworski, Vice-Chairman of NSZZ "Solidarność", who greeted all the participants on behalf of the President of NSZZ "Solidarność", Piotr Duda. Józef Mozolewski, Deputy Chairman of EZA and President of the Podlaski Region of NSZZ "Solidarność", summed up the 12-year cooperation with EZA, in which the trade unions engage in activities related to topics important for employees at the national and European level. Demographic challenges make the issue of maintaining the health and activity of workers and thus improving their ability to remain in the labour market until the legal retirement age one of the most serious topics, which the European Commission draws attention to and that is actively addressed by the social partners.

Dr Tomasz Tokarski from the Central Institute for Labour Protection (CIOP) presented to the participants the results of research and statistical data on work-related musculoskeletal problems. He talked about the costs associated with sickness absenteeism resulting from MSDs and how the development of these diseases can be prevented by organizing the workplace and adapting the workplace to the needs of the workers. Wioletta Klimaszewska (CIOP) presented research activities and cooperation with the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA). She presented the Healthy Workplace Campaign, which EU-OSHA will run through national institutions in all Member States. The campaign will start in October this year and run for 3 years. The aims of the campaign are to raise awareness of MSDs among all stakeholders, to develop tools for risk assessment and prevention and reintegration of workers, and to share good practice.

Then the seminar participants from Romania, France, Austria, Latvia and Spain presented the situation and problems in their countries and the activities of the trade unions.

It has been noted that many countries have similar problems:

  • Lack of good and complete statistics, and thus lack of properly addressed prevention activities,
  • Low knowledge of the regulations and the functioning of occupational health and safety systems and institutions in the workplace,
  • Breaches of health and safety regulations by employers,
  • Limited possibilities to apply prevention measures in small and medium-sized enterprises,
  • Workers continuing to work despite health problems; it is dictated by the fear of losing a job.

In the discussion, participants gave examples of trade union activities aimed at solving these problems:

  • Collecting additional information among workers on their health status,
  • Negotiating risk assessment and prevention mechanisms at workplaces,
  • Negotiating additional health insurances, allowing quick access to medical care and rehabilitation,
  • Better and more efficient operation of company health and safety services and social labour inspectors (SIP)
  • Informing employees about health and safety regulations

The seminar was organised at the Hotel Bałtyk in Kołobrzeg, which is also a rehabilitation centre, focused primarily on the treatment of MSDs. This gave the participants an opportunity to get to know in practice the functioning of the health resort dealing with the rehabilitation of MSD and to get to know the opinions of its specialists on the importance of a properly organized, ergonomic workplace.

During the seminar there were also panel discussions attended by representatives of NSZZ "Solidarity" from the trade, administration, transport, construction and automotive industries. Elżbieta Wielg, moderator of the debates, asked the participants what actions were taken in their workplaces or sectors to prevent MSDs and what in their opinion the success of such actions depends on. The trade unionists presented solutions and methods to prevent health risks associated with MSDs in their workplaces and sectors. They talked about the problems they face every day as trade unionists and as social labour inspectors, but also provided examples of positive solutions that have been implemented by negotiating with employers and convincing them that investing in a healthy workplace is beneficial, including from their point of view.

The participants stressed the role of the following factors:

  • The key role of social labour inspectors and cooperation of trade unions with OHS services,
  • Raising awareness among both employees and employers,
  • Surveying workers' opinions on potential risks and countermeasures,
  • The need to introduce changes to the law on state services supervising the working environment (PIP)
  • Negotiating solutions related to risk assessment and prevention.

The seminar was concluded by Józef Mozolewski. He spoke about what an important topic today is the issue of workers' health. Exposure to the risks of MSDs is more common than most people are aware of. The costs of neglect in this area are borne by society as a whole - in the form of increased investment in treatment and rehabilitation, and because MSDs can cause health problems and illnesses that exclude a growing proportion of the population from the labour market. There is a need to raise awareness and promote a culture of risk prevention in the workplace. Risk assessment activities should be widely promoted by providing information on practical tools and creating opportunities to exchange good practice. There is a need to raise awareness of the legislative framework already in place which protects workers, while at the same time paying attention to making its implementation more effective.