As the Fit for Work programme extends beyond its western European origins it has been fascinating to explore how different countries manage the consequences of chronic ill-health in their working age populations. Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of attending the launch of the Fit for Work report in Seoul. Like many other Asia-Pacific countries, Korea faces a number or pressing demographic and labour market challenges such as ageing which will have profound economic and social consequences. For the research underpinning the Korean report The Work Foundation partnered with Prof Sunwon Kwon and Prof Jongwook Won who, with colleagues, reviewed the Korean literature and data sources on musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and drafted the report.
Prof Kwon represents the Graduate School of Business at Sookmyung Women’s University and is an expert in labour relations. Prof Won has a background in occupational medicine and is based at the school of medicine at Yonsei University. The excellent final report was launched at a well-attended seminar hosted in the National Assembly in Seoul, hosted by two eminent members of the Assembly – Congresswoman Jaongae Han (member of the labour Committee) and Congressman Yongik Kim (member of the Health & Welfare Committee).
Core findings from the Fit for Work research in Korea show that:
- The proportion of the total number of compensated occupational diseases in Korea accounted for by MSDs increased from 49.6 per cent in 2003 to 76.5 per cent in 2007.
- The total cost of work-related MSDs increased from ₩105.3 billion in 2004 to ₩163.3 billion in 2007.
- People with MSDs accounted for 69.2% of the total of all occupational diseases in 2010
- The most common condition requiring more than one day of absence from work (caused by or exacerbated by work) was MSDs in the upper limbs (31.2%), followed by MSDs in the lower limbs (13.9%) and lumbar spine (6.9%),
- MSDs caused directly by working conditions increased from 26.6% of all cases in 2006 to 33.4% of all cases in 2009
- According to 2012 National Health Insurance Statistics, 14.87 million people received treatment for MSDs, accounting for 32.5% of total treatment across all conditions.
- MSDs are the biggest cause of absence from work in Korea and account for no less than 52% of overall disorders.
The ageing labour force in Korea, together with low rates of labour productivity, are key characteristics of the labour market which policy-makers in Seoul are focused on and the Fit for Work research shines a light on the need to prioritise the health and work ability of the Korean workforce as it becomes more susceptible to chronic health problems.
However, I was convinced that opinion-leaders and policy-makers in Korea are increasingly aware of the need to take action and I am confident that the Fit for Work Korea report will make a significant contribution to the debate in the immediate future. I am hopeful that a Korean Fit for Work Coalition will soon be established to ensure that the findings and recommendations of the report influence the debate on workforce health in Korea.
The Fit for Work report on Musculoskeletal Disorders and the labour market in Korea will soon be published on the Fit for Work website.