The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) recently issued a paper called Calculating the cost of work-related stress and psychosocial risks. In a nutshell, the paper explains that stress and physical health problems are linked and although the cost of tackling stress and psychological risks are seen as high, the cost of not tackling them can be much higher.

Working life appears to be more and more affected by the general increase in the pace of life, constant time pressures and apparent work intensification. The separation of work life and home life becomes more blurred, particularly as the smartphone and similar devices mean most of us find it harder to leave work issues at work and home issues at home.

This adds to both work-related stress and general stress. Stress affects performance and leads to absence from work. If prolonged it may result in serious health problems such as cardiovascular or musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

According to the EU Labour Force Survey, 1999–2007, nearly 28 per cent of respondents, or approximately 55.6 million European workers, reported that their mental well-being had been affected by exposure to psychosocial risks. ‘Too little time and too much work’ was the most commonly selected main risk factor (23 per cent).

Among workers with a work-related health problem, 14 per cent reported that stress, depression or anxiety was their most serious (European Commission, 2010). Moreover, in the 5th European Working Conditions Survey (Eurofound, 2012), around 45 per cent of workers reported having experienced, during the previous three years, some type of organizational change affecting their work environment in the last three years, and 62 per cent reported working to tight deadlines.

Managers are aware of this issue, with the European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER; EU-OSHA, 2010a) finding that 79 per cent of European managers are concerned about stress in their workplaces. At the same time, less than 30 per cent of organizations in Europe have procedures for dealing with workplace stress, harassment and third-party violence. ESENER showed that more than 40 per cent of European managers consider that psychosocial risk is more difficult to manage than ‘traditional’ health and safety at work risks (EU-OSHA, 2010a).

A number of studies in this field have shown that psychosocial factors at work may play a significant role in the development of musculoskeletal problems. An EU-OSHA study in 2010 found that poor work organization and a lack of social support was associated with lower back pain. Similarly, a review of ten studies by Sobeih and colleagues in 2006, examining the link between psychosocial factors and MSDs, showed that all studies reported a relationship between MSDs and at least one psychosocial factor, the most common being stress, low job satisfaction, low job control and high job demands. This review was supported by another study undertaken in 2010 by Leka and Jain who found that 16 studies showed a similar link between stress and MSDs including repetitive strain injuries and pain in the upper limbs, neck, back and muscles.

The cost of MSDs in the European workplace is estimated to be up to two per cent of GDP meaning back pain in the European workforce costs more than 12billion euros per year (Bevan et al., 2009). This is an issue that needs to be addressed.
It is essential that organizations manage the ergonomic elements of risk within their business, not only from a duty of care point of view but also because it makes good business sense. Tackling MSDs not only means addressing specifically ergonomic issues. Evidence is growing that it means also tackling psychosocial and workplace stress issues, and it is vital that this includes home workers.

Perhaps the most cost-effective way of providing a holistic approach to the management of stress, psychosocial issues and MSD risk is to consider managed services from Cardinus. Managed services were devised to protect workers and achieve compliance through a range of Cardinus products all implemented and managed by us, without drawing on your internal resources.

The Cardinus managed services programme is as flexible as you need it to be. We can integrate into your current team to coordinate your DSE assessors and schedule on-site assessments for them or we can undertake telephonic and on-site interventions for you.

We have ergonomic e-learning products designed especially for home workers and our consultants work with experts in stress and psychosocial issues.

Our results are impressive. An individual recording high risk scores through Cardinus e-learning can be managed telephonically in more than 90 per cent of cases. The remainder of cases can be managed by Cardinus or any third-party provider you choose to deal with.

If you would like to read the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work report Calculating the cost of work-related stress and psychosocial risks you can download it here or contact the Cardinus consultancy team by emailing [email protected] or complete the online contact form.

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