World Arthritis Day – EULAR conference on reducing the burden of chronic diseases in the workplace

Today is World Arthritis Day. A day being honoured by The EULAR Conference on reducing the burden of chronic diseases in the workplace for people with RMDs. The conference is focusing on identifying and discussing relevant issues related to the working environment and how to move forwards.

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The conference was opened by EULAR president Prof. Gerd R. Burmester, who addressed the issue of people with chronic conditions being a burden on society. The question to ask is “Do we need new policies for better working conditions and the retention of ill people at work?” In order to answer the question, we first have to ask an additional question: “How well is Europe doing in preventing musculoskeletal diseases in the workplace and facilitating people with RMDs staying in work? What else needs to be done?”

After the opening session Laurène Souchet, policy Officer at EPF, talked about the main challenges in health and safety at work for people with chronic conditions. Dr. Rikke Helene Moe, a physical Therapist and researcher at National Advisory Unit on Rehabilitation in Rheumatology in Norway told us, that “Work is good”! She pointed out, that studies have shown how preventive strategies, such a healthy lifestyle and maintaining a job, can help improve the clinical impact of RMDs.

Antonio Cammarota, Head of the OSH Committees and International Relations Team, DG Employment and Social Affairs, European Commission spoke on how the EU intends to reduce the burden of RMDs and other chronic diseases in the workplace through legislation and policy initiative developments.

Lastly before participants broke off into workshops, Marious Coloumas, EULAR Vice-President representing People with Arthritis/Rheumatism in Europe (PARE) gave the patients´ point of view, when it comes to preventing RMDs and including people with RMDs in the workplace.

Participants were then divided into the three different workshops:

  1.  Primary, secondary and tertiary prevention of RMDs in the workplace: What legislation and policy initiatives do we need?
  1. Dealing with RMDs in the workplace: How to improve access to occupational health professionals and therapists?
  1. How to facilitate the retention of people with RMDs in the workplace as well as the return to work after sick leave?

Possible answers to these questions were then presented on slides.

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Before closing today’s conference, a panel debate was held on the subject: Do we need better EU legislation to reduce the burden of RMDs in the work place?

On the panel were:

Biljana Borzan (Member of the European Parliament) | Antonio Cammarota (Advisory Committee on Safety and Health at workplace, DG Employment and Social Affairs, European Commission) | William Cockburn (Head of the Prevention and Research Unit, European Agency for Safety and Health at Work) | Marina Monaco (Advisor, European Trade Union Confederation) | Patrick Gibbels (European Small Business Alliance), tbc | Prof. Anthony Woolf (Universities of Exeter and Plymouth & EULAR) and as a moderator: Cathy Smith (Journalist).

The main outcome of the debate was that new policies/laws in the workplace may not actually be needed. Perhaps it is enough to make sure, that existing laws are implemented more rigorously by each EU member state.

All of today’s results will be communicated directly to EU policy makers to improve conditions at the European level.

Jeanette Andersen