Hungary: Survey explores musculoskeletal disorders

A 2015 survey commissioned by the Association of Hungarian Physiotherapists finds that almost half of all workers aged over 35 years have experienced musculoskeletal pain; these musculoskeletal disorders account for 18% of cases of lengthy sick leave in the country.  

Extent and impact of musculoskeletal disorders

Commissioned by The Association of Hungarian Physiotherapists (MGYFT), a September 2015 survey examined the occupational causes and effects of musculoskeletal disorders. Made up of 600 people aged 35–65 years living in urban areas, the sample was representative of region, urban settlement type, gender and age.

The survey finds that considerable proportions of workers have been doing the same type of work for at least 10 years:

  • 65% of those who stand continuously in their jobs;
  • 50% of those who have to bend repeatedly; 
  • 70% of those continuously sitting at their workplaces;
  • 54% of those always on the move.

The workers' repeated performing of the same kind of work considerably increases their risks of developing musculoskeletal disorders. Repeated bending (57%), continuous standing (53%) and continuous moving (52%) are the most frequent causes of regular or re-occurring pains.

Almost one in two of respondents (47%) said they had musculoskeletal pains; the type of work they perform correlates to the frequency of suffering this pain, with blue-collar workers more likely to experience pain. Some 54% of blue-collar workers complain of pain, as against 34% of office staff.

Many people try to ease their symptoms with painkillers, but this is not effective in the long run. A previous survey commissioned by MGYFT in 2014, which also covered the issue of methods to relieve pain, showed that 40% of Hungarians over 35 years used painkillers – mostly in the form of ointment – to ease joint-related symptoms. Those suffering from wear and tear on the cartilage were most likely to use these products (46%). Only 11% of people regularly attend physiotherapists. 

Such disorders, the survey report points out, are responsible for 18% of lengthy sickness absences.

Association of occupation with types of pain

The findings of the survey indicate that various occupations can be associated with specific types of joint pain.

  • Office staff employed in sedentary jobs most often suffer tendonitis and pain in the neck and shoulder.
  • Nurses tend to suffer from spinal hernias.
  • Waiters and shop assistants who stand or move a lot are more likely to suffer knee pain.
  • Dentists are likely to experience posture disorders.
  • Those working in cold conditions are more likely to suffer from arthritis.

Types of pain and occupations

Body area most affected by pain

Typical occupations

Neck

Hairdresser, beautician, office workers, painter, teacher, dressmaker

Shoulder

Hairdresser, office workers, baker, painter, teacher, dressmaker

Hand, wrist

Office workers, dressmaker, cashier

Spine

Nurse, car mechanic, shop assistant, tiler, gardener, driver, dentist

Hip

Nurse, dentist

Knee

Shop assistant, tiler, gardener, waiter

 

Occupational health in Hungary

The survey also looked at occupational health in general. A basic principle of occupational health is that a person can only be employed in a job for which they have the appropriate physical ability, and if the employment does not interfere with their health. Occupational health has two aims:

  • eliminating risks to health arising from workplace hazards, and mitigating workers’ exposure to them;
  • monitoring and improving occupational health at work.

It would appear that an uneven approach is being taken to fostering a healthy work environment. For example, those in the public sector who work in front of a computer monitor receive a fairly wide range of protective measures. However, in the occupations covered by the survey, protective regulations are seldom in place and occupational health standards are weak or non-existent.

Commentary: Social partner actions

Social partners in Hungary have not dealt adequately with occupational health issues. In the past six years, they have made only two attempts to address and improve health at work.

In 2010, one of the largest employer organisations, the Confederation of Hungarian Employers and Industrialists (MGYOSZ) and the biggest trade union group, the National Confederation of Hungarian Trade Unions (MSZOSZ) decided to launch a joint action programme. The programme had the following aims:

  • to ensure the personal, physical and organisational conditions required for safe and healthy workplaces;
  • to maintain the health and working capacity of people at work;
  • to prevent occupational accidents by improving working conditions;
  • to reduce work-related psychosocial disorders and other occupation-related diseases.

However, the national social partners have not reported on what their action programme has achieved. The limited information available indicates that their members at enterprise level have failed to prioritise occupational health. Another initiative was initiated by the National Federation of Workers’ Councils (MOSZ) in 2015: MOSZ launched a petition to support the compulsory provision of information and training of workers with regard to the following issues:

  • occupational health risks;
  • ways of staying healthy;
  • the health-improving role of occupational health provision.

However, this has not received substantial backing by member organisations.

The 2015 MGYFT survey highlights how occupational ill health may gradually develop over time. This information is particularly important, given expectations that workers will stay longer in employment and maintain their capacity to work up to retirement age.

MGYFT and the survey

MGYFT is a professional civil organisation established in 1988. Its mission is to represent the professional interests of its members. Its main tasks include:

  • supporting physiotherapists’ scientific research;
  • liaising with the relevant Hungarian administrative bodies and professional and civil organisations;
  • representing Hungarian physiotherapists in the World Confederation for Physical Therapy (and in its European region);
  • keeping in contact with international business societies, professional and non-profit organisations.

MGYFT has focused on musculoskeletal symptoms in its research activity for several years. Its 2014 survey also focused on urban people aged 35–60, and found that half the respondents had difficulty carrying out ordinary activities like housework, carrying heavier objects, climbing stairs, getting around, lifting a young child or gardening. And half of the respondents between the ages of 35 and 50 experienced pain from these kinds of activities. The most common complaint was knee pain (reported by 36% of respondents who experience pain), followed by back pain (26%) and shoulder pain (20%). Some 18% reported experiencing 'other' pain. The most frequent cause of pain was the wear and tear of cartilage, which affected one-quarter of those aged between 35 and 50.

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