Press releases
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - 08/05/2020 - 01:45

ESENER 2019 reveals biggest concerns for European workplaces – musculoskeletal disorders and psychosocial risks

The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) launches the results of its 2019 European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER) on the eve of Europe Day. The findings provide a picture of how European workplaces currently manage occupational safety and health (OSH). A policy brief presents the main findings of the survey, shedding light on the main risk factors reported by workplaces, emerging risks and some worrying trends.

Safety and health at work remains essential in these critical times and the more attention companies pay to this, the better they can recover from the effects of the pandemic.

Commenting on the Survey, EU Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, Nicolas Schmit said: “Protecting and promoting occupational safety and health  for workers, companies, and society at large has become even more vital over recent months. There is no doubt that concerns put forward in this study have been exacerbated by the Covid19 crisis. We need to redouble our efforts to address issues related to workers’ mental health and to deal with the challenges posed by digitalisation, given the recent sharp increase in teleworking. The upcoming OSH strategy framework will provide the opportunity to address these issues.”

EU-OSHA’s Executive Director, Dr Christa Sedlatschek, highlights that ‘during the current coronavirus crisis, all businesses, regardless of size, are facing serious economic threats. But safety and health at work remains essential in these critical times and the more attention companies pay to this, the better they can recover from the effects of the pandemic. ESENER is a valuable resource, which policy-makers and workplaces can use to ensure effective evidence-based prevention’.

The findings reveal that musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and psychosocial risks are the issues most frequently reported by European workplaces. Repetitive hand or arm movements (reported by 65 % of workplaces in the EU27_2020), prolonged sitting (61 %) – a new item in the survey – and having to deal with difficult customers, patients, pupils, etc. (59 %) are the three most frequently reported risks.

The survey also looks at how companies tackle these risks, and identifies some worrying trends. For instance, despite the high proportion of workplaces reporting MSD risks, there has been a slight decrease since 2014 in the number of workplaces adopting measures to prevent them. Moreover, only 29 % of companies say they would intervene to stop employees working excessively long hours to manage psychosocial risks.

Some companies report having no risk factors at all. This is particularly true for small businesses – the smaller the enterprise, the more likely it is to report having no risk factors, particularly psychosocial risk factors, which highlights a concerning lack of awareness of this type of risk. A reluctance to talk openly about issues appears to be the main obstacle to tackling these risks.

ESENER 2019 clearly shows further OSH issues for concern. More than a third of EU workplaces report having no form of employee representation, and more than a third report a lack of time or staff as a barrier to OSH management. Between 2014 and 2019, the proportion of workplaces reporting a visit by the labour inspectorate in the previous 3 years fell in almost all countries.

The emerging issue of digitalisation and its impact on workers’ safety and health is included for the first time in ESENER 2019. This reveals, for instance, that only 24% of workplaces using a digital technology reported having discussed the potential impact of such technologies on the safety and health of their workers. Focusing on the possible impacts that have been discussed, the need for continuous training to keep skills up to date comes first (77 % of workplaces in the EU27_2020), followed by prolonged sitting (65 %) and more flexibility for employees in terms of place of work and working time (63 %).

EU-OSHA’s projects on digitalisation aim to make sure that policy-makers and workplaces have the information they need to take advantage of the benefits of technological developments while protecting employees. Digitalisation will also be the focus of EU-OSHA’s 2023 Healthy Workplaces Campaign, as the Agency joins forces with its partners to raise awareness of the opportunities and risks associated with digitalisation.


Notes to editor: 

The third edition of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work’s (EU-OSHA’s) European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER 2019) collected responses on occupational safety and health (OSH) management and workplace risks from those who best know about safety and health in their company.

In spring/summer 2019, 45,420 workplaces employing at least five people from all sectors in 33 countries – the EU-27, as well as Iceland, North Macedonia, Norway, Serbia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom – participated in the survey. The questionnaire remained largely the same as the one used for ESENER 2014, for the purposes of comparison; however, a new section on digitalisation was included.

The data were collected mainly through computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI), and national reference samples were boosted in three countries, funded by the respective national authorities: Ireland (+ 1 250), Norway (+ 450) and Slovenia (+ 300).


The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) contributes to making Europe a safer, healthier and more productive place to work. The Agency researches, develops, and distributes reliable, balanced, and impartial safety and health information and organises pan-European awareness raising campaigns. Set up by the European Union in 1994 and based in Bilbao, Spain, the Agency brings together representatives from the European Commission, Member State governments, employers’ and workers’ organisations, as well as leading experts in each of the EU Member States and beyond.

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