Very big! MSDs are very prevalent in the workplace and very costly. They are a major wellness challenge for companies. 80% of workers anywhere, in any occupation, for example, report experiencing back pain at some point in their life. In fact, if we were to ask workers right now, at least 20% of them would say that they have low back pain now. And when we look at employer health costs, MSDs are often the number 1 preventable cost driver.
Research has put the costs of MSDs in the billions. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has identified low back and neck pain, tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome as the top issues in MSK health. A report from Johns Hopkins University indicated that the cost of chronic pain in the U.S. can be attributed primarily to low back and neck pain and cost employers as much as $635 billion a year. And this is in 2012 dollars!
And MSDs are not monopolised to a country or an occupation. They are truly global. The European Agency for Work Safety and Health reported that MSDs were the most common work-related health problem in Europe. MSDs account for 50% of all absences from work and lost productivity and 60% of short- and long- term disability. The American Pain Society estimated that the cost of lost productivity to companies due to MSK pain was estimated to range from $299 to $335 billion a year. Again, these are 2012 dollars! And there is more! These are direct costs; indirect costs may be 5 times this level.
So clearly, Occupational Health and Safety, while doing wonders for safety and protecting the employee from hazards, does little to slow down the development of MSDs.
Why? Because prevention of MSDs is a 2-sided coin. The work environment on one side and the worker on the other side of the same coin. And while the work environment side (through Occupational Health and Safety) is mandatory, legislated, comprehensive and driven from the top, the worker side (through Corporate Health and Wellness) is optional, voluntary, piece-meal (if it is in fact offered) and driven from below.