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Musculoskeletal Disorders in the Workplace

Musculoskeletal disorders are commonplace and lead to both individual suffering and a high level of costs

Physical stress, such as heavy lifting and carrying, can lead to problems with the musculoskeletal system. On this page, we provide you with information on the causes, prevalence and cost of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), as well as on BAuA's contributions to their prevention.

MSDs include all disorders of the musculoskeletal system, also referred to as the support and locomotor system. They can affect any area of this system, including the ligaments, blood vessels, cartilage, tendons, bones, etc. The collective term also encompasses all transient forms of health complaints, from slight, temporary disturbances to serious, chronic, irreversible damage.

MSDs and incapacity for work

Both in Germany and internationally, MSDs are the most common cause of

  • sickness absence,
  • severe disability,
  • limited capabilities at work,
  • premature incapacity for work.

Over the course of a year, MSDs are responsible for

  • 22.5% of all sick days,
  • 21,380 retirements due to impaired ability to work,
  • €17.2 billion in lost production,
  • €30.5 billion in lost gross value added.

Source: Sicherheit und Gesundheit bei der Arbeit - Berichtsjahr 2017 / BAuA (Ed.).

MSDs also account for a significant part of compensation for occupational diseases.

Causes of MSDs

MSDs have a wide range of causes, originating both in workplace activities and in the individual's private life. Work-related MSDs are especially caused by unfavourable physical workload. Accordingly, the lifting and carrying of heavy loads is seen as one of the typical activities that lead to unfavourable loading of the musculoskeletal system.

Consequences of MSDs for those affected

MSDs, such as degenerative disorders of the back or arthritis of the knee, usually restrict motor capabilities, such as strength, coordination and mobility. These restrictions mean that many physical requirements at work, such as the ability to lift and carry loads, cannot be met or can only be met to a limited extent. The term "work-related musculoskeletal disorders" is used for disorders and problems of the musculoskeletal system, or rather of the locomotor apparatus, that occur in relation to work.

BAuA and MSDs

BAuA makes numerous contributions to the prevention of MSDs:

  • Within the scope of internal and external research projects, we investigate the causes (aetiology), prevalence and incidence (epidemiology) of various disorders within the field of MSDs.
  • We develop tools and guidance for the risk assessment of MSDs and thereby support workplaces in their on-site preventive work.
  • We observe and analyse developments in relation to MSDs within the context of health surveillance.
  • We participate in committees of the federal government and the German Statutory Accident Insurance (DGUV) and thereby play an active role in the prevention of work-related musculoskeletal disorders.

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