Improving mental and social working conditions as an important tool to prevent health risks in the field of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (the new EU-OSHA campaign)

From June 29th until July 2nd, 2021 a seminar took place in Porto and Herzogenrath on the subject of "Improving mental and social working conditions as an important tool to prevent health risks in the field of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (the new EU-OSHA campaign)" as a hybrid event, supported by EZA and the European Union.

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) are among the most common work-related diseases. Millions of workers across Europe are affected, and the cost to employers is counted in billions of euros. Fighting MSDs helps improve workers' lives, but it also makes good business sense. (https://osha.europa.eu/de/themes/musculoskeletal-disorders). With our seminar we took up the campaign of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. Our aim was for trade unions and workers' organisations to take on the topic and thus use the help offered by the OSHA campaign to promote prevention approaches.

Due to the classification of Portugal as a virus variant area, the seminar was held in addition to the conference hotel in Porto (30 people from Portugal, Belgium, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania) also in an event room in Herzogenrath (9 people from Germany) and purely online (2 people from Germany and Portugal).

In addition to an introductory explanation of the campaign, there was a practical report from the labour inspection in Romania (Emilia Lumei), two technical reports on the topics of "Relationship between stress, conflicts and other psychological stress and musculoskeletal disorders (MSD)" and "Prevention of work-related stress as well as work-related illnesses” by the head of the teaching and research area of ​​occupational health psychology at the Institute for Occupational, Social and Environmental Medicine at RWTH Aachen University (Univ.-Prof. Dr. rer. soc. Jessica Lang) and practical technical reports for the introduction to an interactive one Workshop “institutional casework” by the division manager in the Nell-Breuning-Haus and independent therapist and supervisor Dr. Christina Herrmann.

All technical reports showed that there is an (indirect) causal connection between work-related stress and MSD and that this can also be proven by comprehensive studies. The meta-analysis of various studies by RWTH Aachen University since 2008 revealed a significant correlation between high job requirements, low social support (private, colleagues) and complaints in the back and neck area. The design of the square of work content - work organisation - work environment - social relations of the employees: in decides whether the employees are affected by stressors or work with resources. This already shows that employers have at least three-quarters of the salutogenesis of their workforce. As always, the vulnerability of the individual plays a role in the “tolerance” of stressors, but measures must not be passed on to the individual and fall under employers’ sole responsibility. Strengthening resilience in the individual, yes, but not at the price that deteriorating working conditions are better endured.

Jovita Pretzsch (Solidarumas, Lithuania) and Emilia Lumei from Cluj / Romania were able to impressively describe how important it is to further expand the labour inspection in the countries. The latter showed the consequences if only a handful of inspectors can look after a large number of companies in the area. This leads to calculated misuse of occupational health and safety. The legally fixed expansion of the labour inspections is also part of the catalogue of demands at the end of the seminar, as is the strategic cooperation between the unions and the labour inspections. Jovita Pretzsch gave tips for the latter in her report. The presentation of the OSHA campaign by Silviu Ispas (ifes) led the seminar to a further point, the economic and economic damage of a health management system that is ignored in companies. The long-term effects can be seen in early retirement, inability to work, and depression. Employers must be made more responsible. What the European legal situation has long provided is still being undermined in the companies. Only about 30% of all companies across the EU can offer measures against stress. According to Prof. Lang, there is a lack of know-how, clear responsibilities, occupational safety actors have little influence and there are fears of conflicts and confrontations. In Germany, for example, psychological and physical risk assessments are the duty of employers. It is your concern to bring this top-down approach to the executive board and company management through more advice from experts. These include academics and trade unionists. Ultimately, it's a cross-sectional topic.

Veselin Mitov (Podkrepa, Bulgaria) finally introduced the catalogue of measures and recommendations for action for a social dialogue. In the Dr. Christina Herrmann (NBH) guided design thinking, and the participants in two working groups had the opportunity to assure themselves of their greatest challenges on site in their consulting work to find solutions.

Results:the range was wide and ranged from the establishment of company rest/fitness rooms, the mandatory installation of air conditioning in production, shift rotations with monotonous work processes to more strategic solutions. Trade unions must support surveys in companies that raise potential for improvement. You could search for best practices in a targeted manner at companies and also particularly appreciate/honour them. The early and more intensive development of the relationship with the labour inspectorates has already been mentioned. These could be regularly invited to employee meetings, with small impulse presentations on risk prevention, etc. Finally, this connection could also result in offers for managers on the subject of de-stressing. The trade unions and the labour inspectorate could hold round table discussions and act together. Discussions with politicians should lead to so-called health packages being put together in the countries, such as medical cases for the respective industries. Or health packages that translate specific legal requirements into operational and union measures for individual industries.

In short: this seminar showed once again how important the networking work of EZA is in this area.