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Workers Memorial Day

We can only estimate the cost of failing to protect workers, latest figures showing that work-related accidents and illnesses take the lives of over 200 000 people and cost the EU at least EUR 476 billion every year - 3.3 % of European GDP. The cost of work-related cancers alone amounts to EUR 119.5 billion.

What is far more certain is how we can reduce these horrific costs. Studies done by EU-OSHA show two key requirements for effective safety and health management:

  • Leadership from management, and
  • Active worker participation


When we talk about leadership in occupational safety and health, we identify leaders as being those who promote a positive health and safety culture, lead by example – not ignoring unsafe conditions or unacceptable behaviours, who gain the commitment of senior managers, ensure a culture of openness to hear of problems and solutions, and who ensure that there are sufficient resources (time, money, competent people) to ensure a safe and healthy work environment.

Effective worker participation

There is empirical evidence of an association between the presence of arrangements for worker representation on safety and health and that of safety and health management. This is reinforced by the latest report from the EU OSHA ESENER project on Worker participation in the management of occupational safety and health, which identifies the presence of health and safety management indicators where there is:

  • Employer/management commitment to participatory approaches to OSH;
  • Supportive worker and union organisation inside and outside the establishment; and
  • Well-trained and well-informed worker representatives.

These findings build on the previous ESENER secondary analysis on worker participation in which it was noted that all measures to manage general OSH risks investigated in the survey were ‘more commonly applied where there is general formal representation in place’ and that the existence of OSH policies, management systems and action plans positively correlated with the presence of employee consultation, even after taking account of establishment size. Moreover, the presence of formal representation was associated with better perceptions of the success of measures (such as the impact of OSH policy) to manage OSH risks and argued that the ‘presence (and involvement) of employee representation is clearly a factor in ensuring that such OSH policies and action plans are put into practice’.

How can workers be part of the prevention process?

As the European Trade Union Institute puts it, “systematic participation by workers and workers’ representatives at all stages of risk assessment ensures that all risks will be properly considered and makes it easier to draw up a workable prevention plan”.

In other words, to find out about the hazards and risks present in the workplace, it is essential to ask those doing the job! Furthermore, those workers need also to be consulted about the best way to eliminate or mitigate those hazards and risks. Too often, expensive “solutions” that do not work are put in place – because no-one has talked to those who have to use them. In particular, it is not possible to put in place measures to prevent psychosocial risks without good worker engagement. Dealing with sensitive topics such as harassment, violence from clients, or work-related stress needs a participative, consultative approach.

In one example highlighted by EU OSHA during their 2014-2015 campaign on work-related stress a regional housing body in the United Kingdom worked with the union representatives to identify causes of work-related stress and then to develop a pro-active stress prevention policy and well-being at work approach. The result was not only a more aware, better trained and informed staff, but an award for the company!

More information can be found at the web sections:

Leadership and worker participation and Psychosocial risks and stress