The most common work-related illness in Belgium is tendonitis. This was detailed in the annual summary report of the Occupational Hazards Federal Agency (Fedris). Nerve injuries and lower-back pain are also common complaints.

A ‘work-related illness’ occurs while an employee carries out their work or is caused by circumstances in the workplace environment. The number of requests to recognise a work-related illness has remained stable for many years. In 2017, requests were submitted by 9,087 Belgians. This is a slight drop in comparison to 2016.

The top 10 most common work-related illnesses have also largely remained unchanged.

1. Tendonitis
Tendonitis is the reason for 32% of the requests. It is often caused by overburdening the body. It is caused by vigorous repetitive movements or poor posture. Over time, tendonitis can lead to loss of muscle strength or reduced mobility of the arms or legs.

2. Impairment of nerve function due to pressure
Intensive movement increases the pressure on the nerves. If the pressure continues, it risks overburdening the body or even a nerve injury. A well-known example is carpal tunnel syndrome where a nerve in the wrist is impaired. Patients experience tingling in their fingers and have difficulty holding objects.

3. Sciatica, hernia, and joint disease due to lifting or mechanical vibrations
Lower-back pain may be the result of different disorders, such as sciatica (nerve pain), a hernia (wear or a tear in an intervertebral disc), and joint disease (wear of the cartilage). Using the proper lifting technique and position will stop lower-back pain.

4. Bone and joint disorders
Bone and joint disorders is a collective term for illnesses that result in stiff muscles and joints. This is often due to overburdening the body. Such complaints are seen not just in a production environment. Working behind a screen can also negatively affect certain joints, such as the wrist or elbow.

5. Hearing loss or deafness due to noise
Noise-induced hearing loss may lead to reduced concentration, stress, or an increased chance of workplace accidents, because members of staff might not hear certain alarms. As an employer, you can take various measures to prevent hearing loss.

6. Dermatitis and dermatosis due to the work environment
On average, one in two Belgian employees is exposed to chemicals. Chronic exposure or an allergic reaction may result in skin conditions, such as dermatitis and dermatosis. The inflammatory reaction causes itching and redness. You can use a risk analysis, measurements, and training to reduce the exposure to (chemical) substances.

7. Bone and joint disorders of the upper limbs due to mechanical vibrations
Electrical tools, such as pneumatic drills, transfer the vibrations through the handles to the hands, wrists, elbows, and shoulders. Over time, this can result in nerve and muscle disorders and, in some cases, injured bones and joints.

8. Mesothelioma due to asbestos
More than 85% of mesotheliomas, also known as pleural cancer, is caused by inhaling asbestos fibres. You can minimise the hazard by taking an asbestos inventory and appropriate training.

9. Tuberculosis among occupations with social contact
Tuberculosis, or TB, is a contagious disease that damages the lungs. Care providers are especially at risk of encountering TB. Not everyone who is infected gets sick. Up to 90% overcome the infection on their own.

10. Benign pleural disorders due to asbestos
Not all asbestos-related disorders are life-threatening. For example, thickening of the pleura can arise after (moderate) exposure that rarely causes complaints. However, people with such thickening are just as likely to contract other asbestos-related illnesses as those who came in contact with asbestos to the same extent.

Source: Fedris

Catching up

‘As of 2012, tendonitis is recognised by Fedris as a work-related illness. The steep increase in requests in recent years is due to catching up on cases,’ said Marie-Noëlle Schmickler, director of medical supervision. ‘The number of cases of asbestos-related disorders continues to increase because of the asbestos effects occurring in the body at a later age. Cancers due to asbestos only appear 20 to 30 years after exposure. The number of diagnoses is expected to peak in 2020 due to the long latency period.’

Catching up

It is also striking that four work-related illnesses are due to ergonomic complaints. Gerrit Pollentier, ergonomics health and safety advisor: ‘Many employers already take measures to limit physical stress in the workplace. However, too much monotonous physical stress on our body is often the cause of complaints. In addition to avoiding overburdening the body, attention must be given to imbalance and underloading. For example, long periods of sitting behind a screen is a health risk.

An ergonomically well-designed workplace and work environment reduce more than just the stress on the body. At the same time, the environment spontaneously stimulates healthy alternation between postures and movements.’

Protecting your employees from work-related illnesses

A risk analysis identifies the possible hazards in the workplace. You can prevent the risks by using a preventative approach. Our blog has lots of tips on how your staff can work safely.

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