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Professor Sir Cary Cooper CBE
50th Anniversary Professor of Organizational Psychology and Health, Manchester Business School
Professor Sir Cary Cooper CBE

Fit for Work in Europe

Authors: Professor Sir Cary Cooper CBE Cary L. Cooper, CBE, is Distinguished Professor of Organizational Psychology and Health at Lancaster University in the UK and Chair of the Academy of Social Sciences.

21 October 2013

The Fit for Work Coalition report, produced by The Work Foundation has found that Germany and UK have the worst sickness absence rates in Europe when it comes to muscular skeleton disorders (MSD). MSDs (including back pain, neck, shoulder and arm pains) are the leading cause of sickness absence across the EU, with 44m workers suffering, costing up to 240bn Euros in terms of lost productivity and sickness absence, representing 2% of GDP across the EU. MSDs are also linked to the next leading cause of absence, stress.  There is a great deal of research that MSDs can trigger stress and stress can be the underlying cause of back pain, etc.  

It is urgent that we need to prevent and intervene early so that the predictions that 50% of the working population in the EU does not have these problems by the year 2030. There have been some really good examples of early interventions, particularly in Spain.  The Madrid Clinic did a two year study of intervening with people suffering from MSDs after 5 days of sickness among 13,000 workers and reduced temporary work absence by 39%. The report suggests that if there was only a 25% reduction in absence from an early intervention, 640,000 workers throughout the EU would be available for work.

This work is very important in both understanding, preventing and treating MSDs as well as workplace stress, where the number  of workers suffering are growing rapidly and is now the leading cause of incapacity benefit in the UK.  The Fit for Work Coalition and The Work Foundation should be congratulated for an outstanding report and a way forward.

Cary L. Cooper, CBE, is Distinguished Professor of Organizational Psychology and Health at Lancaster University in the UK and Chair of the Academy of Social Sciences.