With over 450 Europeans dying every day from work-related causes, and with 6% of European GDP being lost because of work accidents and ill health, workplace health and safety cannot be seen as a luxury that can be ignored in times of economic difficulty.
That was the message from last month’s final meeting of the Healthy Workplaces campaign on risk assessment 2008-2009, the biggest occupational health and safety (OSH) campaign in the world. The campaign concluded with a European Summit on risk assessment and small and medium-sized enterprises in Bilbao, Spain attracting over 500 participants.
The campaign, organised by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) and launched in June 2008 by Vladimir Spidla (EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities), also had distinguished guests at its closing event, including Sven Otto Littorin, Swedish Minister of Employment (representing the Swedish EU Council Presidency), Celestino Corbacho, Spanish Minister of Employment and Immigration, and Gemma Zabaleta, Minister of Employment in the Basque Regional Government.
According to Sven Otto Littorin, the downturn should rather be seen as ‘an opportunity for investment in OSH, and for increasing competitiveness and participation in the labour market. Used wisely, OSH is not a cost or a burden, but a tool for capturing the full potential of the workforce.’
For Celestino Corbacho, ‘like the swine flu pandemic, the economic crisis knows no boundaries. But good OSH – involving workers, employers and public bodies working together – is vital if we are to emerge from it.’
Gemma Zabaleta, meanwhile, paid tribute to the ‘absolutely fundamental’ work of the Agency. ‘Nothing is more valuable than the lives and safety of workers. They need to be involved in the risk assessment process – they are in the best position to know what risks they face.’
The event provided an opportunity to hear presentations from OSH specialists, researchers and workers’
and employers’ representatives, on the challenges involved in integrating risk assessment into the day-today business of Europe’s SMEs.
10-15% of EU firms carry out no risk assessments at all
Preliminary results were also presented of the European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER) looking at how safety and health at work is managed across European workplaces, and the presentation focused on risk assessment in organisations of different sizes. It shows that, even though there is a legal obligation to carry out regular risk assessments, between 10% and 15% of enterprises with 10 to 50 employees still do not do so.
Over a third (36%) of enterprises contract out their risk assessment. The survey also highlights the fact that the smaller an establishment is, the more likely it is to outsource risk assessment. 40% of small enterprises (with 10 to 19 employees) engage an external service provider to carry out risk assessment, compared to 17% of larger enterprises (with 250 to 499 employees).
Exhibition area at the Euskalduna Conference Centre in Bilbao.