Over the last 25 years, EU-OSHA has built and mobilised a pan-European network of partners to raise awareness of occupational safety and health (OSH). Who have been the beneficiaries of these 25 years of activity?
Micro, small and medium-sized enterprises
EU-OSHA was established with a simple and significant purpose: to make Europe a safer, healthier and more productive place to work. Its objective is to increase knowledge and raise awareness of workplace risks and promote improvements in OSH, reaching out to policymakers, businesses and workplaces and providing authoritative information and practical tools.
Micro, small and medium-sized enterprises constitute most businesses in Europe, with micro enterprises alone accounting for an astonishing 95 %. Therefore, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and in particular micro and small enterprises (MSEs), are EU-OSHA’s key audience: they not only account for more than half of the EU workforce but suffer from a disproportionately high percentage of accidents and other OSH problems. While larger enterprises are increasingly investing in OSH policies, this is apparently missing in many SMEs, probably because of a perceived or real lack of resources and an often poor exchange of information about effective OSH management.
© EU-OSHA Photo Competition 2009 / Georgy Velichkov
In 2001, recognising that SMEs were the ‘powerhouse’ of Europe and required support, the EU introduced funding schemes. At the invitation of the European Parliament, EU-OSHA embraced these schemes and set up a parallel scheme, which ran from 2001 to 2003.
In the scheme’s first year alone, it supported 51 projects, with grants ranging from EUR 25,000 to EUR 190,000 and totalling EUR 5 million. More than half a million SMEs benefited from the initiative and over 15,000 hours of training courses and seminars on risk awareness and good practice were delivered. Unsurprisingly, the popularity of the scheme grew and, in its second year, it benefited up to 700,000 SMEs.
These funding schemes allowed the Agency to reach many SMEs across Europe in its early years and not only raise awareness of OSH but raise the Agency’s profile among the enterprises it seeks to support.
MSEs remain one of the key beneficiaries of EU-OSHA’s work. Evolving from the European Week for Safety and Health at Work, which the Agency has run since 2000, and, subsequently, annual OSH information campaigns, EU-OSHA’s flagship Healthy Workplaces Campaigns have become a major part of its efforts to reach out to small businesses. These 2-year campaigns aim to raise awareness of pertinent OSH-related topics through good practice exchange and the production and dissemination of information materials and practical tools and resources. All campaign materials are designed to be easy to understand and free to use, and thus are geared towards the needs of small businesses, which may have difficulty allocating time and money to OSH.
The first of these 2-year campaigns, launched in 2008, focused on risk assessment, which underpins all effective OSH practice. As part of this, the Online interactive Risk Assessment (OiRA) platform was born. OiRA is intended specifically to help MSEs. It enables the creation of web-based sectoral tools that allow risks to be effectively assessed and managed. OiRA has now helped many thousands of small companies to carry out risk assessments in a simple and cost-effective way.
© EU-OSHA - EU-OSHA’s high-level conference on safety and health in MSEs - 19 June 2018, Brussels
In June 2018, EU-OSHA hosted a conference in Brussels on improving OSH in Europe’s small businesses. EU, national and international stakeholders discussed the conclusions of the 3-year SESAME (Safe Small and Micro Enterprises) project. A key recommendation was the engagement of all stakeholders, and the orchestration of their efforts, when reaching out to MSEs. The project also produced a wealth of good practice examples, tailored to the needs of MSEs in more than 60 sectors.
While SMEs are the key target audience of EU-OSHA’s work, they are by no means the only beneficiaries. Others include:
- policymakers at EU and national levels
- workers and employers and their representatives
- OSH professionals and researchers
- national governments.
It is clear that the number of beneficiaries of EU-OSHA’s work is vast. Yet the Agency’s goal remains as clear and crucial as ever: to make Europe’s workplaces safer, healthier and more productive.