H&S Campaign

09 May 2008

EU OSHA health & safety campaign Logo

EU OSHA health & safety campaign Logo

Figures from the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (ISHA), also known as the ‘Bilbao Agency because of its location, paint a stark picture of work related accidents in the EU. According to the Agency, in 2007:
  • 159000 fatalities were attributable to work-related diseases
  • 74000 fatalities were due to hazardous substances at work
  • 7460 fatalities were caused by accidents at work.

On the basis of these figures, someone in the EU dies every 3,5 minutes from work-related causes, and every 4,5 seconds a worker in the EU has an accident that forces them to stay at home for at least three working days. The impact of this is felt by workers and their families and businesses, and there is also a significant cost to society as a whole.

Although there has been some improvement in the last few years, the construction industry still makes up a big portion of these figures.

This is partly explained by the particularities of the construction industry. It has a high labour intensity - more than 15 million workers in 2006, corresponding to 7,2% of total EU employment. The workforce is also highly mobile and the industry is fragmented - in 2006 it comprised 2,7 million enterprises, 95% of which had fewer than 20 workers.

These may be contributory factors, but the statistics also show a clear need to promote a culture of health and safety in the sector, especially amongst the small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).

The European Social Partners for the construction industry, FIEC and the European Federation of Building and Wood Workers (EFBWW), have therefore welcomed OSHA's latest campaign, which will focus on risk assessment as the starting point for systematic health and safety management.

Risk assessment

Risk assessment is the process of evaluating the risks to workers' health and safety from workplace hazards, by identifying what could cause injury or harm and ascertaining whether these can be eliminated. If not, a further step needs to be taken to determine which preventive or protective measures should be put in place.

According to the EU framework Directive on health and safety (89/391/EEC), the employer has a duty to ensure the health and safety of workers in every aspect related to their work. Employers must take all measures necessary for the protection of workers, including the prevention of occupational risks and providing information and training, as well as the necessary organisation and means. Risk assessment is therefore part of the legal requirements that fall under the responsibility of the employer

On the other hand, the same Directive also underscores the responsibility workers to ensure, as far as possible, their own health and safety and that of other persons affected by their acts. This must be in accordance with his training and the instructions given by his employer (correct use of machinery, tools, dangerous substances, transport equipment, and personal protective equipment supplied etc.).

As a result, health and safety has long played featured prominently on the agenda of the European Social Dialogue. A European Commission Communication published in 2004 highlighted the need for improvement in risk assessment and pinpointed the following weaknesses:

risk assessment is too often considered a "one off" activity;

risks are not analysed and evaluated collectively, and as a result separate and uncoordinated measures are put in place;

the focus is too often put on obvious and immediate risks whilst neglecting those that become apparent over time;

the efficiency of the measures is not sufficiently monitored.

These are some of the elements that explain the new OSHA campaign, which, for the first time, will be bi-annual, running from 2008 to 2010.

The main objectives of this campaign are:

to raise awareness of the legal responsibility and the practical need to assess risk in the workplace;

to promote a stepwise approach to risk assessment;

to demystify risk assessment (it should not be seen as a complex and bureaucratic approach);

to encourage enterprises, especially SMEs, to carry out their own risk assessment;

to promote the involvement of all actors in the workplace, not only employers or experts;

to improve access to good practice, tools and resources.

Ultimately all stakeholders must be convinced that risk assessment is not an objective in itself, but is rather a powerful tool for identifying the need for preventive health and safety measures.

The OSHA campaigns are based on a decentralised strategy that requires partnerships at the EU level and beyond.

At national level, OSHA works with a formal network of national Focal Points, which will continue to play a central role in the definition of each campaign strategy and plan.

However, as one of the main objectives is to reach SMEs in particular, there is a need to secure the engagement and participation of stakeholders/partners representing SMEs in the campaign.

Therefore, FIEC and EFBWW will discuss in the framework of the Social Dialogue how to facilitate and assist the construction industry in meeting the 2008 to 2010 OSHA campaign objectives, because as the slogan of the campaign rightly says: "Healthy workplaces are good for workers but also for business."

Further information on the campaign can be found on the following specific dedicated website : http://hw.osha.europa.eu.

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