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The Ergonomic Challenge

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are the most common occupational disease in the EU and North America as well as one of the most important causes for long-term sick leave.

Automation and industrialization of factories and work sites have been a great development in terms of improved health and safety for workers, but has led to more grasp intensive work tasks. This means exposure to high forces, repetitive and/or static work and involves a risk for the workers to develop strain injuries. To create sustainable workplaces, it is crucial to protect the workers by improving ergonomics and integrating them into the Industry 4.0/Factory of the Future concept.

At EU level, repetitive work is the most common risk factor. The situation in North America is very similar. It is however common that workers are exposed to more than one risk factor. Additionally, exposure to above risk factors are increasing in younger working populations making it of utmost importance to implement corrective actions to create a sustainable workplace.

  • 2 billion Euro in yearly cost due to work related upper limb disorders (WRULDs) (OSHA)
  • $45-54 billion in annual cost of work related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) in U.S.*
  • 40 million people affected by (WMSDs) in EU alone**
  • 74% of workers in the EU are exposed to repetitive hand or arm movements
  • 30 days of sick leave and $64K is the cost of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome per incidence in the U.S.
  • (WRULD) accounts for 45% of all occupational diseases (OSHA)

Risk factors for obtaining Musculoskeletal Disorders or MSDs are; repetitive work, painful and/or tiring positions, carrying and/or moving heavy loads, vibrations, lifting and/or moving people and prolonged standing or walking.

What can be done to prevent strain injuries?

Assessment of the hazards and risks in the workplace is paramount. Employers are required to evaluate risks to safety and health within their workplaces and then to improve the standards of safety and health for workers and others who may be at risk of harm = risk assessment. In addition to that workers at risk should be supported in their daily work wherever possible. New innovative solutions like exoskeletons or soft robotics provide endless possibilities.

What is MSD and WRULD?

Musculoskeletal Disorders or MSDs are injuries and disorders that affect the human body’s movement or musculoskeletal system (i.e. muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, discs, blood vessels, etc.).

Work-related neck and upper limb disorders (WRULDs) are the most common occupational diseases. They affect the neck, shoulders, arms, hands, wrists and fingers, causing pain, discomfort, numbness and tingling sensations. Other symptoms, which can be exacerbated by cold or the use of vibrating tools, include swelling in the joints, decreased mobility or grip strength, and a change in skin color of the hands or fingers. WRULDs usually develop gradually, the cumulative effect of many, apparently moderate applications of force, repeated over an extended period.

OSH in figures. Read this report from the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work for more insights

*Musculoskeletal Disorders and the Workplace: Low Back and Upper Extremities, Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2001
**Fit For Work? Musculoskeletal Disorders in the European Workforce, The work foundation, September 2009
***U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, November 2018; SHA Safety Pays Program (Calculator)