Safety professionals and regulators must think more broadly and for the future

The European Agency for Occupational Safety & Health at Work has released its Annual Report for 2009/10.  Most of the content should be familiar to those who follow EU-OSHA through their blogs and publications but it provides a good indication of the future of OHS in Europe and the methods that will applied in that future.

Annual Report - Full

One significant achievement of EU-OSHA is its anticipation of workplace hazards.  Few OHS regulators and agencies have had the resources or will to forecast the next set of hazards.  The nature of regulators has been reactive possibly because they remain largely uncertain of how to step beyond the factory fence to acknowledge OHS as a broad social element and, after decades of compartmentalising safety and health to the workplace, to try to catch up with the spread of new varieties of workplaces.

The media statement accompanying the Annual Report indicates the forward-thinking well:

“….findings from the recent ESENER survey show that 52% of managers in Europe think that time pressure contributes to psychosocial risks in their company.  Other influencing factors are job insecurity (26%) and long working hours (21%)”

Annual Report - Summary

Safety professionals must come to realise that to fuller support the general OHS principles professional must become social activists.  If one does not, then one is reacting to hazards that become unavoidable and this is contrary to the principle of preventing harm.

Some safety professionals and associations need to also realise that they must become political.  Previously it has been possible to be politically friendly but this has led to a fear of criticising the OHS regulators, particularly if they sponsor events and provide some funding, even if the regulator is proceeding towards a dead-end or has inadequate consultation on important OHS matters.

Many safety advocates have become too friendly with the regulators, too mild and too complacent.  But best friends are also brave enough to tell you when you are wrong and you accept the criticism and assess that criticism precisely because it has come from a friend.

Safety is bigger than the safety regulators.  It is bigger than sectional interests.  It is bigger than sucking up for the next OHS research grant.  If safety is as important and as economically fundamental as some claim, this significance is not being communicated to the society at large in most countries.

The Annual Report of EU-OSHA illustrates that there is at least one organisation who is trying and is trying in new ways and is looking to the long-term.  This is particularly due to the fact that EU-OSHA, under the leadership of Jukka Takala, has always seen OHS in a broad social context.  This may be a particularly European perspective but if so it is being applied to a fractious conglomeration of countries that are economically unstable and have immature OHS systems.  Surely more unified countries like Canada and Australia would have had a better chance to illustrate the social context of safety but, in many OHS ways, they trail Europe.

If safety professionals and associations are genuine about tackling safety, there requires a major ideological shift.  New and emerging hazards are highly unlikely to be able to be controlled or minimised using techniques and strategies based on the concepts of the past.  New hazards need new approaches and new solutions.  Safety advocates everywhere should read the EU-OSHA Annual Report and ask their own OHS regulator, and professional association, why they are not thinking ahead and creatively.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

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