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Workers Memorial Day 2017

Health and life at work is a basic human right. “Everyone has the right to life to work… to just and favourable conditions of work… Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of himself and of his family”[1].

Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. All are equally entitled to these human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.[2]

This means that all workers have the right to safe and healthy working conditions. There should not be a different conditions for workers on the basis of gender, ethnicity, or age.

Directive 89/391/EEC - OSH " of 12 June 1989 on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work - the "Framework Directive" defines a worker as “any person employed by an employer, including trainees and apprentices but excluding domestic servants”[3]. The directive protects all workers, requiring the employer to put in place a prevention structure based on risk assessment.

EU-OSHA has published clear help for employers to ensure that all workers are covered in the risk assessment and occupational safety and health management process[4], and in its current Health Workplaces Campaign has focused on ensuring safe and healthy workers throughout their working lives. This includes the production of a multi-lingual e-guide[5] to help employers, workers, human-resource managers and occupational safety and health professionals protect workers from the start to the end of their working lives. .

At the heart of prevention is the risk assessment process, and this should be diversity-sensitive, meaning that it should ensure the protection of all workers. Five steps have been identified to check ensure your risk assessment process is diversity sensitive:

  • Find out about your workforce – What is its demographic make-up?
  • Examine your existing assessments and policies – What is being done at the moment?
  • Identify the gaps for specific worker groups – What more do I need to do?
  • Implement work adjustments – Put in place the measures identified
  • Check measures are working – Sometime actions that sound good in theory do not work in practice.

A prevention measure that improves working conditions for one group of workers is likely to improve it for all. For example, to improve the lighting in a workplace will probably benefit all workers, not just those whose eyesight is impaired or declining.

When taking action, it is vital to avoid simply transferring the risk from one worker group to another. For example, if there is heavy lifting carried out in the workplace, do not just assign such lifting to the younger workers. Address the problem at source!

When taking action over workplace diversity, there are a number of key points to bear in mind:

  • Take it seriously – this must not be a “paper exercise”
  • Avoid assumptions and stereotypes
  • Value the diverse workforce as an asset
  • Ensure you cover all the workforce
  • Recognise that the workforce will change over time
  • Link health and safety interventions with human-resource actions – employer have duties under anti-discrimination legislation too and close cooperation will ensure effective and efficient outcomes
  • Consult the workers – they know the challenges in the workplaces and which solutions will work.

Europe is “united in diversity”. Its workplaces benefit from having diverse workforces. We need to ensure that all workers receive the protection they are entitled to as a basic human right.