Preventing work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) with ergonomics. Social partners cooperation for reduction of work-related musculoskeletal disorders

From 27 to 28 November 2020 took place in Ružomberok / Slovakia a seminar about “Preventing work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) with ergonomics. Social partners cooperation for reduction of work-related musculoskeletal disorders”, organized by NKOS (Nezávislé krestanské odbory Slovenska), with the support of EZA and of the European Union.

A total of 39 representatives of workers’ organisations participated in the seminar, which was held as a hybrid event. The participants came from seven different EU countries: Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Belgium and Germany.

The aims of seminar

Changes in working practices, demographics, technology and the environment are creating new occupational safety and health (OSH) concerns. Growing challenges include psychosocial risks, work-related stress and non-communicable diseases, work-related musculoskeletal disorders, notably circulatory and respiratory diseases, and cancers.

Demographic shifts are important because young workers have significantly higher occupational injury rates, while older workers need adaptive practices and equipment to work safely. Women – who are entering the workforce in increasing numbers – are more likely to have non-standard work arrangements and have a higher risk of musculoskeletal disorders. Better public understanding of OSH issues is also needed. Finally, international labour standards and national legislation need to be strengthened, something which will require stronger partnership between governments, workers and employers.

The following questions were answered:

What are musculoskeletal disorders?

How often do they occur?

What are the risk factors? What factors may contribute to MSDs?

And do legislation and standards exist to prevent these disorders?

What was the most important aspect of the seminar?

Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are the focus of EU-OSHA’s latest Healthy Workplaces Campaign (2020-2022), and with good reason. These debilitating conditions, which include backache and neck pain, are the most common ailments among workers in Europe. It is vital, therefore, that social partners are made aware of the issue and offered support and guidance in preventing or managing MSDs.

Why was the seminar important just now?

Despite efforts to prevent them, MSDs remain at the top of the list of work-related health problems in Europe, and often occur in combination with other health problems. This inevitably reduces individuals’ quality of life and capacity to work, damaging businesses and economies.

Given the high prevalence of work-related MSDs, it makes good business sense to invest in preventing their onset or occurrence. MSDs are manageable and can be preventable, so costs related to MSDs can be reduced. If someone does develop an MSD, taking simple measures — such as providing professional support and adjusting the work environment — as soon as the symptoms appear significantly lowers the chance of long-term absence from work.


Visitors of the conference were welcomed by Ľubica Černá, the president of NKOS together with the founder of Catholic University in Ružomberok and the member of the Board NKOS Radislav Kendera.

Why are musculoskeletal disorders our common priority?

Zuzana Hudáková from Catholic university in Ružomberok (SK), director Department of physiology. She presented practical possibilities of cooperation between the university and companies in the field of prevention of damage to the musculoskeletal system in the workplace. Different groups of factors can contribute to work-related MSDs, including physical and biomechanical factors, organisational and psychosocial factors, and individual factors. These may act independently or in combination.   

After the presentation, participants could try practical stretching exercises in nature.

Supportive workplace for students with special needs and for students-parents with children.

Participants visited Counselling Centre. Katarína Markovičová, Director of Counselling Centre presented program of centre. A professional team of the Counselling Centre offers career counselling, psychological counselling, and it also provides social and legal counselling. The Counselling Centre is also a supportive workplace for students with special needs and for students-parents with children.

The EU-OSHA 2020-22 campaign focuses on the prevention of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Slovak participants had the opportunity to connect online via zoom. Ivan Černý, the health and safety inspector, informed about the ongoing 2020-2022 campaign. He presented the available campaign materials, tools, Napo films, infographics and legislation. He underlined collaboration between employers, managers, and workers. It creates a common understanding of the issue and leads to lasting improvements.

Case studies on working with chronic musculoskeletal disorders.

Speaker: Ľubica Černá

Ľubica Černá presented 2 case studies:

  • Accommodations and task changes to enable an ICT worker to manage knee osteoarthritis.
  • Accommodations and self-managing osteoporosis for a university lecturer.

This case analysis is part of a larger project on working with chronic musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) that includes a review with guidance and examples and articles. It presents a case analysis of people who either returned to work or stayed at work with a chronic MSD. (Sources: EU OSHA)


Role of Trade Unions in Workplace Health Promotion. (online via CISCO). Moderator: Ing. Janka Majherova, PhD. Member of CRK NKOS

Ludmila Nemcová (hKAP CZ) presented the current state of health protection of working seniors. Czech trade unions deal with the issue of the minimum wage, the eradication of poverty among low-income workers, the differences between urban and rural areas. The Covid 19 pandemic has revealed problems in the education of children and young people and the protection of the seniors.

András Bardócz-Tódor (H), the member of EZA Educational Platform presented best practices for Occupational Health and Safety management in Hungarian schools. Teachers are twice as likely to experience problems with stress than those in other professions. With the threat of violence, heavy workloads, and long hours, it is unsurprising that teachers are more vulnerable to stress than those choosing other careers. OHSAS Occupational Health and Safety System demands some activities, like internal responsibility system, health & safety committees, or representatives, investigating incidents, safety trainings, etc. All this is missing in our schools, we have only fire and accident prevention education yearly in Hungary. All teachers must have three basic rights. 

  • The right to know about hazards and issues that affect health and safety.
  • The right to refuse work if that is unsafe or unhealthy
  • The right to participate in your own safety, eg. on health and safety committees or as a Health and Safety Representative.

Also have the right to report unsafe conditions and voice your concerns or opinions on any issue that affects the health and safety anyone at the workplace.

Aneta Szczykutowicz (EDS FNS, PL) presented subject: Workplace  health promotion – role of  trade unions – best practices in Poland . As laid down in Article 66 of the Constitution of the Republic of Poland, a person working in Poland has the right to safe and healthy working conditions.  The relevant obligations of employers and workers are set forth in the Labour Code, other legislative and implementing acts as well as collective agreements, statutes and work regulations. Many projects are being implemented in Poland to support occupational safety and health: Project:  „School, please don't spoil the children's spine”. Education and training movie „Ergonomics in the office”. Platform „Work for Health”. Competition „The most active social labour inspector”.

Rasita Martise (LDF Education centre, LT) presented Safety and Health at Work Commission of the Republic of Lithuania. The main task for trade unions are:

  • Analyze and discuss safety issues related to digitalization and automation
  • Evaluate work places for telework employees
  • Involved in H&S risk management processes
  • Form proposals for management to increase safety and health at workplace

11:15 –12:00   Discussion panel

Subject: Neck and shoulder pains from office work — telling your employer. Group work. Conversation starters for workplace discussions about musculoskeletal disorders

Moderator: Agata Kubinová, board of NKOS

The situations used are intended to highlight some of the challenges faced by workers and the importance of understanding company procedures relating to the prevention of MSDs, including which responsibilities lie with employers and which lie with workers. Through discussion, workers, managers and supervisors should recognise the importance of early symptom reporting in reducing the risk of workers developing MSDs and in supporting sustainable working lives. The participants discussed about communication tips for workers before they chat, Communication tips for managers.

How to prepare for the inspection of the labour inspectorate. Slovak participants had the opportunity to connect online via zoom.

Speaker: Dr. Janka Kantíková. lawyer

Scope of Slovak labour inspection is focused on the supervision over observance of:

  • labour-law provisions governing labour-law relations in particular their establishing, change and termination, wage conditions and working conditions of employees inclusive of working conditions for women, adolescents, home employees, persons with disability and persons under the age of fifteen and collective bargaining,
  • legal provisions and other provisions for securing occupational safety and health protection, including the provisions which govern factors of the working environment,
  • legal provisions governing prohibition of illegal work and illegal employment,

It is the employer's duty to ensure that representatives are properly empowered to perform their duties as health and safety representatives. Representatives are entitled to attend incident investigations and enquiries, inspect documents and participate in internal health and safety audits.

Foreign participants reported on the current state of the spread of the covid 19 pandemic in their country. We discussed together the measures that are being taken to protect the population and the economy. The Covid-19 crisis has greatly affected everyone worldwide. But workers in healthcare and other fields of care, as well as those working in vital services and sectors like retail, food production and transport, have been shouldering the most. They have also taken the biggest risks, with their health and safety at work insufficiently protected too often.


We have identified common recommendations:

  • to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses,
  • to improve compliance with laws and regulations,
  • to reduce costs, including significant reductions in workers' compensation premiums,
  • to engage workers,
  • to enhance their social responsibility goals,
  • to increase productivity and enhance overall business operations.

It is important to ensure that all workers receive appropriate information, education and training on health and safety in the workplace, and know how to avoid specific hazards and risks.