Nearly two in three workers in Belgium, in all possible sectors, suffer from muscle and joint complaints such as back pain, tendonitis, arthritis or pinched nerves, according to latest figures.
62% of all employees suffer from MSDs (musculoskeletal disorders), with the maladies causing 150,000 long-term sufferers to take absence. Now, the Christian trade union ACV wants to amend the law to require companies to account for the risks that can lead to such complaints.
"This is a huge problem and in most cases is linked to work," Stijn Gryp of the ACV study department told VRT. On World Safety and Health Day (28 April), the ACV wants to raise awareness about the problem and demand "more rights for your back" in a new campaign.
Gryp stressed that it isn't only people who do heavy physical work who are affected by MSDs: "Truck drivers, healthcare staff, office workers, checkout clerks, assembly line workers – they all have problems. The biggest problems are found in construction, the care sector and the industrial sector."
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While too much movement can be problematic, too little can be the cause of a lot of issues as well. "It is not just about exerting force, but also about the posture you adopt. Bad posture, such as working with your hands above your shoulders or your head, can cause complaints. The duration of a certain movement is also important, as well as strength."
In addition to awareness-raising to prevent the problems as much as possible, the ACV union calls for concrete measures on the ground. "Lifting aids for physically demanding work or ergonomic equipment for desk work. Being able to take sufficient breaks is also very important," said Gryp.
It would also be in the best interest of companies to ensure that they have a healthy workforce. "Businesses can get help from many experts and can discuss this with employees, in welfare committees about protection at work," said Gryp.
How to prevent back and other complaints at work
In light of the high number of complaints, movement expert and professor at KU Leuven Jan Seghers gave some tips on how to prevent MSDs as much as possible at work.
For those who have to sit for long periods, sit correctly: "Good posture is key. I literally cannot stress this enough."
Use the backrest of your chair: "Many people put themselves in the front of their chair and then sag. The backrest is there to support your lower back: use it. Also, always put your feet firmly on the ground. Do not let them dangle."
Break long periods of sitting still: "All prolonged postures are actually bad," Seghers said. Stand up for a moment every half hour of sitting, or even longer if you have been sitting for a long time. "I always say: 'The best posture is the next one'."
For those working in an industrial environment, use correct techniques, for example, when lifting heavy loads. "A cliché, but for good reason: never bend your back, always bend your knees."
Make the workplace as ergonomic as possible: Whether it is an office or an industrial environment. "Sometimes a workplace is not properly adjusted to someone's body dimensions. Employers and employees must always take the necessary care of this."
Maintain a sufficiently active lifestyle outside work: "Work puts a strain on you, but you have to be fit enough to have a natural protection against that," said Seghers. "As an adult, that means at least half an hour a day of moderately intense exercise: an afternoon walk can already do a lot."