Discussion about costs and benefits of OSH
Does OSH in Europe need an update because of new forms of work?
MM – 07/2019
recent months, the value of occupational safety and health has been debated on
several occasions in Brussels. This is not only a question of the additional
gain in health protection for workers, but also of the economic consequences of
more serious accidents or even fatalities.
this background, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) held a hearing on ‘The costs and benefits of investments in occupational safety and health
(OSH)’, in which it prepared the EESC’s position as requested by the Finnish
Presidency. The hearing involved various representatives of European
institutions, trade unions and civil organisations.
verdict was very clear that good occupational safety and health measures can
prevent occupational accidents, diseases and extensive absenteeism. At the same
time, investments in preventive measures can make small and medium-sized
enterprises (SMEs) more successful and sustainable, as long as they are
adequately supported in their implementation.
rapporteur for the relevant EESC working group noted that, despite all the
positive developments, Europe still has room for improvement. For example,
stress is becoming more widespread in the world of work. In addition, around
100,000 people in Europe die each year from work-related cancer. Workers deserve
better protection. In addition to traditional OSH measures, the most important
preventive measures are providing training and information to employees.
OSH in rapidly changing working environments
dramatic changes in the world of work caused by fast-moving technical and
technological developments further accentuate work-related stress. Especially
new forms of work such as platform work, which is supported by the use of
various self-learning programmes, offer flexibility, but also great uncertainty
for workers. This is because workers are often regarded as self-employed and
therefore enjoy little or no protection from accident insurance.
representative of the European Youth Forum pointed out that the pressure from
employers and colleagues to ensure that young workers can be reached at all
times was high. This burden is intensified by the fact that it is even more
difficult for young people, who are used to spending a lot of time on their
smartphones, to refuse such expectations; that is, to separate their
professional and private lives and actually ‘switch off’. Therefore, there
should be initiatives to help address this issue. In addition, it should be
easier to have trade union organisation throughout Europe.
Mental health is important in the workplace
factors in the workplace deserve a prominent place in risk assessments, not
only with regard to negative psychological stress, but also the risks of an
accident that come with it.
representative from Mental Health Europe called for psychologically healthy
workplaces with targeted risk assessments and training for both workers and
managers in order to ensure an open and tolerant working atmosphere.
trade union representative called for better working conditions and ambitious
mental health targets as these have been neglected in occupational safety and
representative from the Finnish Presidency explained the goal for the next six
months – an economy of well-being in which economic and social growth combined
with the well-being of EU citizens is one of the Presidency’s three priorities.
Concerns and wishes of the business community
representative for SMEs stressed that policy regulations must also take into
account the size of European companies and their ability to implement policy.
95% of these are SMEs, some of whom have considerable difficulties in
implementing OSH regulations. It is particularly important to avoid any new
bureaucratic monsters. SMEs are disproportionately burdened by bureaucratic
regulations because they have to implement the same standards as large
companies, but with considerably less ‘manpower’. Therefore, it is necessary to
have assistance with implementation and cost-effective mechanisms tailored to
European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA)
highlighted some positive developments. A best-practice example from Germany
was presented, in which a small company introduced extensive, but uncomplicated
health-promoting programmes such as back training courses for office workers,
which significantly reduced the level of absenteeism.
Summary of the hearing
participants concluded that the involvement of social partners in the
evaluation and implementation of OSH measures was very beneficial due to their
proximity to real-world practice. This also creates mutual trust and open
Study on the economic costs of workplace accidents
part of a series of scientific studies, EU-OSHA has published a study on the value of occupational safety and health and the societal costs of
work-related accidents and occupational diseases.
study attempts to assess the costs of work-related accidents, illnesses and
deaths not only on the basis of the costs to the accident insurance provider,
but also on the basis of the costs to society as a whole. This also includes
follow-on costs, such as the effects on the economic productivity of relatives,
bureaucratic costs for employers, reduced productivity of colleagues, etc.
study compared five European countries – Finland, Germany, the Netherlands,
Italy and Poland – and used two different approaches, a bottom-up model and a
top-down model. Countries with contribution-financed and tax-financed social
security systems were used.
due to difficulties accessing data and comparing different datasets, there are
considerable differences in the results. For this reason, the study should be
read particularly thoroughly and commented on critically.