Musculoskeletal Disorder Impact

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Concern over the prevalence and impact of work-related MSDs in Ireland has been growing and the facts and figures paint an alarming picture.

MSDs and the Irish Workforce

  • MSDs are the number one cause of work absence in Ireland, accounting for 50%.
  • The direct cost to the economy is estimated to be €750m per annum
  • Ireland spends more per capita (40.9%) on sickness and healthcare benefits than 24 other countries featured in a Europe wide study.
  • Arthritis Ireland estimate that the annual cost of lost productive time due to all forms of arthritis was €1.6 billion.

In the absence of adequate of further Irish data, the European data shown below gives a fuller picture that can also be applied to an Irish context.

MSDs and the European Workforce


  • Up to 80% of the adult population will be affected by a Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD) at some time in their life
  • MSDs account for nearly half (49%) of all work-related disorders in Europe.
  • Up to 40% of those with MSDs are out of work at some time in their life.
  • MSDs account for a higher proportion of sickness absence from work than any other health condition
  • Over 40 million workers in the EU (almost one in seven) are affected by MSDs caused by work.
  • MSDs account for 60% of permanent work incapacity.
  • MSDs have significant associated costs to the individual, their family, other carers, the employer and the wider economy.
  • In economic terms, it is estimated that up to 2% of gross domestic product (GDP) is accounted for by the direct costs of MSDs each year.
  • Over 100 million European citizens experience Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain (CMP) though it remains undiagnosed in up to 40% of cases.
  • 67% of workers with MSDs reported that pain caused a significant reduction in their quality of life
  • 49% of workers with MSDs were limited in the kind of work they were able to perform
  • 25% of workers with MSDs have never seen a doctor about their pain.
  • Once workers become detached from the labour market, their chances of finding meaningful work again are severely damaged. Job retention and return to work programmes are contingent on patients receiving appropriate medical care as quickly as possible.
  • The risk of acquiring an MSD will increase as the age of the workforce goes up, and that the impact of MSDs on work disability will intensify rather than diminish.
  • MSD patients generally do not have to be 100% fit for work to be able to return to their workplace
  • Almost a quarter of European workers report that they have experienced muscular pain in their neck, shoulders and upper limbs.


  • It is estimated that half of the European population will suffer back pain at some time in their lives

Back Pain:

  • The annual costs of this back pain have been estimated to exceed €12billion.
  • It is estimated that the total annual cost of low back pain in Europe was £12.3 billion in 1998
  • About 85% of people with back pain take less than seven days off, yet this accounts for only half of the number of working days lost by back pain.
  • Half of the number of working days lost by back pain is accounted for by the 15% who are absent for over one month
  • For back pain it is calculated that 80% of healthcare costs are generated by the 10% of those with chronic pain and disability.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA):

  • Most people who acquire RA do so when they are of working age.
  • It is estimated that 40% of those with RA withdraw from the workforce within 5 years of diagnosis because of their condition.


  • People with SpA conditions such as ankylosing spondylitis (AS) are three times as likely to be out of work as the general population.


The effect that MSDs can have on an individuals’ ability to work and the time they may require to be absent from work means that MSDs have significant associated costs to the individual, their family, the employer and the wider economy.


  • Increase in absenteeism
  • Increase in ‘presenteeism’, which is the loss of productivity in an employee while they are at work with an illness or incapacity.
  • Loss of productivity
  • Reduced employee engagement/morale
  • Higher staff turnover, recruitment and training costs
  • Higher early retirement costs

Individual, Family & Society:

  • loss of earnings essential for material well-being
  • increases poverty in society
  • loss of an individual’s identity, social roles and social status
  • Reduced quality of life brought on by job stress, economic stress and family stress
  • Healthcare costs such as doctor visits, physiotherapy, medical equipment, alternative therapy , medication etc
  • reduced chance of returning to the labour market
  • health consequences such as further deterioration in aspects of physical and mental well-being
  • A waste of human capital and productive capacity which affects our competitiveness, social and community cohesion and family stability
  • Loss of family productivity- costs of ill health extend beyond the individual, often resulting in lost opportunities and/or lost earnings for family members
  • Work meets important psychosocial needs in societies where employment is the norm
  • Negative well-being of an individual affects those around them including families, friends and communities.


  • The direct cost of MSDs at work in Ireland is estimated to be at least €750 million.
  • Ireland spends more per capita (40.9%) on sickness and healthcare benefits than 24 other countries featured in a Europe wide study.
  • 7m working days are lost every year due to MSDs
  • Sick pay for public and private sector workers cost the Exchequer almost €1bn in 2010 (Dept. of Social Protection).
  • A recent Irish study estimated that the total annual cost of work-related accidents and ill-health was nearly €3.6 billion
  • Loss in tax revenues
  • Compared with other EU countries, Ireland has a young workforce, and the MSD problem will get worse as it ages
  • Ireland’s goal to become a ‘smart economy’ relies heavily on a skilled, available and healthy workforce but the risk is that unemployment will drain the Irish economy of the much needed skills and knowledge it needs to makes this a reality.



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