EU provides clues for improving safety management

Cover of ef1551enThe European Union conducts research into occupational health and safety that, although there may be cultural and legislative differences, deserves attention from outside that geographical region.  Recently EuroFound released its annual review for 2014.  There are a couple of research projects that deserve consideration, particularly return-on-investment in construction safety, violence at work, psychosocial issues and precarious work risks.

A French study into risk prevention in the construction sector set out to assess the link between prevention and performance and found that

“….pro-active measures, far from hampering competitiveness, can in fact lead to an increase in economic performance.” (page 73)

The report lists  the following statistics

  • risk prevention generates performance benefits: for every €1 invested, the return averaged €2.19;
  • for non-profitable actions, two-thirds of the costs of investment are covered;
  • companies with fewer than 20 workers have a return 3.11 times greater than the investment;
  • a quarter of the safety measures cost less than €5,000 and had an efficiency 10 times higher than the average measure;
  • payback averages 1.5 years (1.2 for small businesses).

One of the consistent attractions of EU OHS publications is that they usually include links to the original research.

The report also discusses the initiatives employed by various EU members on violence at work and psychosocial issues.  By showing the various cultural perspectives on the issue the report illustrates both the complexity of the issue but also the list of factors that need to be considered when developing policy measures.  The Belgian legislative initiative on psychosocial hazards was seen as too “formalistic” (page 75). An increase in workplace violence in Croatia was

“being attributed to the long-term situation of unpaid wages.” (page 76)

And the trend of increased violence against health care workers and emergency responders was occurring in Europe as it is elsewhere in the Western world.

There is a general understanding that the rate of workplace fatalities is decreasing almost everywhere and this can be comforting but there are many more occupational injuries and illnesses than fatalities.  Fatalities are very serious events but they are harder to contest. It is useful to note that Sweden is experiencing an increase in occupational injuries.

“The Swedish Work Environment Authority’s report noted a trend of increasing occupational injuries for the fourth year in a row, rising by 3% from the previous year. Stress-related injuries have increased by 50% over the past four years.” (page 79)

The situation in Europe over precarious work is much more significant than that in Australia but Australia is starting to give this sector some scrutiny and the EU report’s findings on the issue are worth noting.

“The link between poor health and work precariousness is illustrated by Benach and Muntaner (2007), who suggest that temporary workers are often exposed to work that involves a lot of noise; it is repetitive, strenuous and tiring and they rarely take personal leave. According to the authors, there is evidence that non-permanent workers have less information about their work environment and they are more likely to experience bad health. Seifert et al (2007) also link precarious work with poor mental health as an effect of weakening interpersonal relations and the lack of ability to take pride in one’s work.” (page 81)

This article has only dipped into the EU Report but it is rich with information about working conditions and OHS. It provides a reflection on one’s own country’s performance and policies but also indicates what may be developing hazards and risk for one’s own industry or region.

Kevin Jones

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