Musculoskeletal disorders in education. Need for action!


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As a partner of the Campaign “Lighten the Load 2020-22” led by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA), ETUCE continues to tackle Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and address the occupational health and safety in the education sector.

Musculoskeletal disorders - or MSDs – are the most common work-related health problem affecting bodily structures such as muscles, joints, and tendons. Today, MSDs affect millions of workers across Europe and have detrimental effects on the quality of life and ability to work. The severity of these diseases can vary heavily from minor back pain to chronic cases resulting in disability.

Data from 2019 shows that MSDs are a relevant occupational health concern in the education sector as more than 1 in 3 of all teachers, academics, and education personnel in Europe suffer from MSDs. In addition to this data, the new EU-OSHA report “Better Schools by Promoting Musculoskeletal Health” reveals that MSDs for workers in education are often overlooked and under-represented issues. A variety of risk factors contribute to the emergence of MSDs, such as:

  • Unfavourable working posture, such as sitting for too long
  • Psychosocial problems and burdens
  • Lack of exercise
  • Higher body mass index
  • A working environment that is detrimental to health, especially due to insufficient ergonomic equipment, unfavourable lighting conditions, poor air quality and noise

In addition, the emergency online teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic has further amplified the occupational safety and health (OSH) risks teachers are facing with regard to MSDs. A new research study commissioned by the European Parliament on “Occupational safety and health: Adjusting provisions in the light of COVID-19" shows that non-voluntary telework during the pandemic has introduced a new set of ergonomic and psychosocial risks for a large fraction of the workforce. This also includes the teaching activities that had to exceptionally resort to online and remote settings during the COVID-19 pandemic. The inadequate working conditions in home offices and higher exposure to ICT tools during the emergency remote teaching have increased the exposure of the teaching profession to MSDs.

The EU Parliament’s report further underlines the opportunity of addressing MSDs in new legislation to offer better protection to workers. Indeed, while only France and Czechia have included “MSDs and ergonomic risks within employers' general obligation to preserve and protect the physical health of employees” some countries such as Belgium, Denmark, and Germany are reported to apply non-binding measures only on MSDs.

The health and well-being of teachers matters and has a huge impact on the quality of the entire education system. Therefore, the EU-OSHA report underlines the importance of adopting a long-term and holistic approach. This includes improving the continuous professional development of teachers and education personnel on health promotion and prevention of MSDs, integrating topics of health prevention in teaching activities as well as reviewing the organisation structure to achieve quality health-promoting education institutions.

In the framework of the "Lighten the Load 2020-22” Campaign, the topic of MSDs in education institutions will be further explored in the online event “Strategies to promote good physical health in education” hosted by the European Network Education and Training in Occupational Safety and Health (ENETOSH) on 23 June 2022.