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Fit for Work Korea research launched in National Assembly in Seoul

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

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 Bevan speaking at the launch of the Fit for Work Korea

Prof Bevan speaking at the launch of the Fit for Work Korea

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 launch of the Fit for Work Coalition in Korea

The launch of the Fit for Work Coalition in Korea

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.

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Posted in Asia-Pacific, Health Policy, Labour policy, Musculoskeletal Disorders | Comments Off
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Minister Andriukaitis calls for Early Intervention in Lithuania at event in the Parliament

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

The Health Minister, Vytenis Povilas Andriukaitis, called for the implementation of the Early Intervention care model in the Republic of Lithuania at an event organised by the Lithuanian Fit for Work Coalition in the Parliament, on the 17th of March. The Minister’s call to action is a major milestone for the Fit for Work mission, as the pan-European Coalition advocates for EU mobilisation against the burden of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) both at central and member state levels.

Minister Vytenis Povilas Andriukaitis calls for Early Intervention

Minister Vytenis Povilas Andriukaitis calls for Early Intervention

The Fit for Work Coalition in Lithuania has been advocating for quite some time for the implementation of a cost-effective solution to reduce the harmful societal and economic impact of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). According to a Fit for Work report analysing the impact of MSDs to the labour market in Lithuania, which is part of a pan-European study conducted by the Coalition through The Work Foundation, MSDs account for about half of all occupational conditions in the country. Fit for Work also found that more than half of those with serious forms of MSDs, such as rheumatoid arthritis, were more likely to become disable than the general EU population living with the same condition, costing the economy around €101 million a year.

On the 17th of March, at the “Musculoskeletal diseases and workability” conference, the  fifth event organised by the Fit for Work Coalition  at the Lithuanian Parliament and chaired by the Health Care Committee and the Lithuanian Rheumatologists Society, the Minister himself called for setting up an “Early Intervention” pilot., The audience, consisting of members of the government, directors of health organisations and experts from various governmental institutions, heard from the Minister Andriukaitis that the innovative care model can significantly reduce both the sickness absence and the permanent job loss attributed to MSDs, promoting a greater participation to the labour market and, thus, saving costs to the Lithuanian economy on the longer term.

The Musculoskeletal Diseases and Workability conference at the Lithuanian Parliament

The Musculoskeletal Diseases and Workability conference at the Lithuanian Parliament

Minister Andriukaitis’s demonstration was backed by Professor Irena Butrimiene from the University of Vilnius. Prof Butrimiene presented some operational scenarios for the set-up of the Early Intervention pilot. These are going to be discussed with experts from the Ministry of Health in the coming weeks.    

The Early Intervention model was founded by Dr Juan Jover, Head of Rheumatology at hospital clinico San Carlos in Madrid, Spain. The programme ran for two year and assessed 3,300 workers with MSDs, resulting in a reduction by 39% of the sickness absence and by 50% of the permanent work disability related to MSDs. The cost-benefit analysis also revealed that there was recouped around €11 for each €1 invested in the pilot. Since then, 25 new Early Intervention programmes have open across Spain, retrieving similar results. With support from the Fit for Work Europe Coalition, EU countries such as the UK, Portugal and Latvia are now testing the programme, too.

 Early Intervention consists  of a rapid diagnosis and assessment, expert clinical management, restraint from bed rest, early mobilization, stretching exercises, ergonomic training, recommendations for physical activity, self-management and support for remaining in, or returning to work. The approach reduces the time of diagnosis, treatment and recovery improving patient outcomes and labour market participation, as well as savings to the health care and welfare systems.   

Minister Andriukaitis expressed his interest in Early Intervention at the Fit for Work Europe 2013 Summit in Brussels, where he had delivered a keynote presentation on behalf of the Lithuanian Presidency of the EU Council

The “Musculoskeletal diseases and workability” conference organised by the Lithuanian Fit for Work Coalition has also been covered by some local media outlets, such as and  

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Posted in Early Intervention, Europe, Health Policy, Labour policy | Comments Off
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Early Intervention is a cost-effective solution to reduce the burden of MSDs

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

What costs EU countries upwards of €240bn annually? Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) affect 100 million Europeans and member states could see up to 50 per cent of their working-age populations diagnosed with a chronic MSD by 2030. The 2010 Report on The Global Burden of Disease published by The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation states that “MSDs are the primary cause of disability in Europe.” MSDs are not just a health issue, they are a social and economic one, too — one that we simply cannot afford to ignore.

There is hope, however. We founded MSD Early Intervention trial clinics in Madrid… click to read Dr Jover’s piece on Early Intervention in the Parliament Magazine, issue 387 | 31 March 2014.

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Posted in Early Intervention, Europe, Health Economics, Press Releases | Comments Off
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Fit for Work in Europe

Monday, October 21st, 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.

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Posted in Early Intervention, Europe, The Work Foundation | Comments Off
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Good Health? Yes Minister – whatever your portfolio

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

It may sound trite, but the old saying that ‘every minister should be a Health Minister’ has never been more true than today. It’s obvious, to me at least, that ministers overseeing planning and transport policy, for example, should be thinking about the opportunities they have to help citizens walk or cycle safely. Finance Ministers should consider whether some citizens’ wellbeing is disproportionately compromised by austerity measures and Employment Ministers should routinely think about ways of helping those with chronic ill health or disabilities have access to fulfilling working lives if they aspire to them.

All sounds very utopian, doesn’t it? Yet if we are to develop more strategic and joined-up approaches to preventative public health, this is exactly the kind of thinking that we need to encourage among policymakers across all developed Western economies. The fact that we are doing everything we can to minimise, control and reduce healthcare costs is a sign of the austere and narrowly-focused times we live in and perhaps we should think more about where we ‘invest’ for longer term benefit rather than just cutting to hit a short-term budget target. Currently, spending on preventative healthcare across all EU member states represents only 3% of the total, while over 70% is spent on managing the care of people with chronic conditions – an increasing number of whom will be of working-age. Unless we find ways of investing in proactive and joined-up health initiatives which are about town planning, employment and public health, we will find that the much-celebrated capacity of our health system to treat people once they become ill will run out of resources.

This week in Brussels, The Work Foundation, through our Fit for Work Europe Coalition, is hosting a major summit on this very theme. Called Investing in Healthcare: Breaking down the Silos, endorsed by the Lithuanian Presidency of the EU and featuring contributions from eminent speakers such as Vytenis Andriukaitis, Health Minister, Lithuania,  Dr Roberto Bertolini of the World Health Organisation Europe; Dame Carol Black, Co-President of the Fit for Work Europe Coalition; Gianni Pittella, Vice-President, European Parliament  and Dr. F. Jesús Alvarez Hidalgo, Principal Administrator, Unit Heath, Safety and Hygiene at Work, DG EMPL,  European Commission  this event will highlight examples from across the EU of innovative thinking which suggests that a ‘Health in all policies’ approach may still be possible and certainly desirable.

Our specific interest in this event is to showcase what can happen if the health needs of people of working-age are prioritised so that they can benefit from quicker diagnosis, earlier interventions which allow them to remain active in the labour market and support from employers which allows them to access and flourish in good quality and secure jobs. We will hear examples from Latvia, Sweden, Ireland, Spain and Germany. We’ll also be challenging policymakers both in Brussels and in national governments to act now to break down policy thinking in silos which prevent joined-up and forward-looking action which just might stand a chance of defusing the public health time bomb which we all know is ticking away.



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Posted in Musculoskeletal Disorders, Policy, The Work Foundation | Comments Off
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Fit for Work report launch in Romania

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

This week I was in Bucharest to launch the Romanian ‘Fit for Work’ report. The setting for the launch was the incredible Parliamentary Palace, second only to the Pentagon in size. It dominates the south-western part of the city and many houses, churches and a football stadium were demolished to make way for it and surrounding government buildings.

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Presentations from EU Presidency Conference

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Fit for Work Europe: Best Practice Sharing at EU Presidency Conference

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Call on policymakers to recognise socio-economic impact of RMDs

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

Today in Budapest, people living with rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases (RMDs) joined leaders in rheumatology from across the EU to demand that policymakers acknowledge the impact RMDs have on a person’s ability to participate in society and so create national plans to address the burden of RMDs.


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Posted in EULAR, Musculoskeletal Disorders, Press Releases, Rheumatoid Arthritis | 2 Comments »
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Greece Launch Video

Friday, January 21st, 2011

You can now watch footage from our Fit for Work Greece launch below, and in the video section of the Fit for Work Europe website.

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Fit for Work at EPPOSI

Monday, December 20th, 2010

Maarten de Wit, Member of the Fit for Work Europe Coalition Steering Group, presented at the European Platform for Patients’ Organisations, Science and Industry workshop on Chronic Conditions on 10 December 2010. See his presentation below:

Fit for Work Europe at the EPPOSI (European Platform for Patients’ Organisations, Science and Industry) Wor…

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