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28 May 2021

COVID-19 and musculoskeletal disorders: a double burden of risk for migrant workers in Europe


A new EU-OSHA discussion paper finds that migrant workers are more likely to be employed in jobs that involve contact with other people and cannot be performed from home - jobs which are also associated with a higher incidence of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). As far as COVID-19 is concerned, the pandemic compounds this to present a disproportionate risk for migrant workers, who already make up one of the most vulnerable groups in Europe’s workforce.

This paper details exposure risk by sector and country, and recommends measures to protect migrant workers’ health during the pandemic and beyond. These include targeted information campaigns and support measures for access to health care and employment.

The analysis concludes with the estimation that approximately 9 200 000 migrant workers in 30 European countries are at very high risk of both COVID-19 and MSD exposure, 60% of whom are extra-EU migrants. This means that one in three extra-EU migrants and one in four EU migrants are employed in jobs with double the exposure risk, compared with one in six native workers. In order to mitigate this risk, a set of interventions is recommended:

  • Employers should make all possible efforts to remove existing language barriers to ensure full healthcare and safety access for workers speaking different languages;
  • Governments should prioritise low-income migrant workers, irregular migrants and those
    unable to physically distance, including those living in camps and camp-like settings, for the allocation of the COVID-19 vaccination;
  • Employers and governments should provide migrants with timely and accurate information on the pandemic and the spreading of the virus;
  • Housing conditions must respect sanitary norms, particularly in the case of migrants
    in collective housing, such as asylum seekers, seasonal workers and workers in migrant labour camps;
  • Anti-discrimination measures must be implemented in order to reduce the risks associated with fake news, misinformation and politicisation of issues, all of which tend to be pervasive in times of uncertainty and anxiety.

Further information on this discussion paper, as well as COVID-19 resources and guidelines on the protection of migrant seasonal workers, can be found online here.

COVID-19 and musculoskeletal disorders: a double burden of risk for migrant workers in Europe
(902.17 KB - PDF)


Roberto Quaranta, Francesco Trentini, Claudia Villosio
Geographic area
EU Wide
Original source
Posted by
Olivia Long
Content manager

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