Musculoskeletal disorders on the rise in the workplace

The health of the workers worsens over the years. The National Public Health Agency France has just published the new results from its unique system for monitoring occupational diseases, operated in partnership with the Medical Labor Inspectorate, and they are not reassuring. For this work, the agency also collaborates with the National Health Insurance Fund (Cnam), the National Research and Safety Institute for the Prevention of Workplace Accidents and Occupational Diseases (INRS) and the Professional organization for the prevention of building and public works (OPPBTP).

Launched in 2003, this system therefore aims to quantify and describe the diseases and disorders that arise in the world of work, to estimate their under-declaration – because a certain number slip through the cracks -, to establish preventive measures and change practices in order to preserve the health and safety of employees. As a reminder, illnesses of a professional nature, although they are directly linked to the professional sphere, are however not recognized by social security systems.

Many reports in the construction industry

The latest batch of results covers the period 2012-2018 as well as the evolution of diseases for 12 consecutive years. This work mobilized the clinical expertise of 1,375 occupational physicians, who examined no less than 40,000 employees in 2018 alone. The analysis also focused on the exposure of workers to organizational, relational or even ethical factors that can trigger or even aggravate these pathologies.

According to the French Public Health system and the Labor Inspectorate, musculoskeletal disorders and mental suffering are the two main occupational diseases, and their reports continue to increase. A peak was observed between 2016 and 2018, where it was multiplied by 1.4 in men and by 1.5 in women. MSDs have generally been on the rise since 2015, while psychological problems have seen a gradual increase between 2007 and 2018.

“Women were more affected than men by MSDs (2.8 to 4.4% depending on the year) as well as by problems of mental suffering (3.5 to 6.2% depending on the year)”, details the study, which specifies that these are observed in particular in women aged 35 to 44 and in men aged 45 to 54. More broadly, occupational diseases obviously differ depending on the occupation. For men, the highest reporting rates were thus regularly observed in the construction andindustry.

Executives more exposed to psychological disorders

Unsurprisingly, workers are much more affected by MSDs than managers, insofar as “biomechanical factors” – repetitive movements, painful postures, hard work… – are 80% responsible for these disorders. On the other hand, it is the opposite for psychological suffering, even if the authors of the report are cautious “due to possible under-declaration among workers”.

It would indeed seem that a “large majority” of occupational diseases is not declared, which is explained most of the time by the fact that the employee does not know the appropriate procedure before consulting the occupational physician, and that the diagnostic that emerges is often “insufficient”.

A phenomenon that is affected in terms of figures, and therefore the health of workers: three quarters of MSDs corresponding to occupational diseases have not been the subject of an appropriate declaration. As for psychological distress, there is no correspondence in terms of occupational diseases.

To carry “special attention” to the workers

The study therefore recommends continuing to provide more and better information to employees, consolidating and targeting prevention actions more by improving working conditions, reducing exposure to risks or even adapting tasks, especially from 45 years old. “Chemical, biological, physical or biomechanical exposures (movements or postures) and organizational, relational and ethical factors (Fore) are determinants of occupational diseases”underlines the document.

Specialists understand by “Fore” everything to do with the organization of work, professional relations and questions of ethics: management, violence in all its forms, requirements relating to the activity (schedules, displacements…), the overload or the under-load of work or the lack of recognition. In conclusion, they call for carrying “special attention” to the workers, considering that “prevention in the company addressed to these workers [est] currently mostly focused on physical health and biomechanical exposures”.

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