Anticipating and tackling new and emerging risks – now and in future

A fundamental part of EU-OSHA’s mission over the past 25 years has been monitoring new developments in occupational safety and health (OSH) to help ensure effective prevention. The establishment of the European Risk Observatory in 2005 was a significant step in pursuing this goal. Today, a new series of foresight studies helps EU-OSHA to anticipate future challenges.

Why was the European Risk Observatory created?

The European Commission’s Communication on a Community strategy on health and safety at work (2002-2006) emphasised the essential role of risk anticipation in finding solutions to ensure healthy workplaces and sustainable working lives. It mandated EU-OSHA to set up the European Risk Observatory to identify new and emerging OSH risks.

In its pursuit of timely and effective prevention, the European Risk Observatory has collected and analysed high-quality data to:

  • provide an overview of safety and health at work in Europe;
  • describe trends and underlying factors;
  • highlight risk factors;
  • anticipate changes in work and their likely impact on OSH.

It has communicated key findings to policy-makers and researchers so that they could take appropriate action. The Observatory also aimed to raise awareness of how the changes it anticipates are likely to affect Europe’s workforce by stimulating debate among OSH stakeholders.

Foresight: understanding future challenges

Work — how and where we work and the kind of work that we do — is constantly changing as a result of new technologies and new forms of employment facilitated by these and shifting economic and social conditions. New situations pose different risks and challenges for workers and employers and demand innovative solutions.

To complement the work of the Observatory and identify the risks associated with new and emerging technologies, new ways of working and societal change, EU-OSHA has embarked on a series of foresight studies. The areas addressed so far by these projects include:

The foresight studies use literature reviews, expert consultations and scenario-building to evaluate potential future challenges to workers’ safety and health. The aim is to help policy-makers create solutions and identify priorities for research and action.

What might the future hold?

We will continue to prevent work-related accidents and diseases against the background of all the challenges of the future by working in the way that we have done so successfully for the past 25 years.

Dr Christa Sedlatschek, EU-OSHA Director

The last 25 years have seen significant changes — both in the world of work and across the EU — and change will only accelerate in the next 25 years, owing to:

  • technological advances;
  • changes in the economy and movement of people;
  • political and societal pressures;
  • changes in demographics, such as the ageing workforce.

Initiatives such as the foresight studies are therefore becoming increasingly relevant and represent a crucial source of reliable data on new and emerging risks and challenges. EU-OSHA’s extensive network of focal points and partners and its strong relationship with the European Commission will also help the Agency to tackle future OSH challenges successfully. Furthermore, EU-OSHA will continue to embrace new technologies and develop innovative tools such as data visualisation to make sure that everyone has access to the resources that they need.

Whatever the next 25 years may bring, one thing will not change: EU-OSHA will keep working together with its partners to make Europe a safer and healthier place to work.