Circular economy and its effects on OSH


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EU-OSHA’s third foresight cycle looks at changes in work that may result from the EU’s transition to a circular economy (CE) and the potential impact on occupational safety and health (OSH). 

This project aims to provide EU decision-makers, Member State governments, trade unions and employers with the information they need on future changes and developments related to the circular economy, their impact on the nature and organisation of work, and the emerging challenges to OSH that they may bring.

What is a circular economy?

CE refers to the circular flow and efficient (re)use of resources, materials and products. The life of products and materials is extended and waste is minimised. Products and industrial processes are designed to keep resources in use, and any unavoidable waste or residues are recycled or recovered.

Why is the project necessary?  

Transitioning to a CE is a key driver of the EU goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 while creating sustainable growth and jobs. It has significant policy and regulatory implications that will affect future jobs. It will also have consequences for workers’ safety and health. For example:

  • its impact on jobs in hazardous sectors, related to maintenance and repair, disassembly and recycling, could have a negative impact on working conditions;
  • changes in organisational processes and/or redesigning tasks could have an impact on job content and satisfaction.

What is EU-OSHA doing to identify new risks and to anticipate changes that could have an impact on OSH? 

The future can evolve in different directions, which can be shaped by the actions of various players and by decisions taken today. EU-OSHA’s foresight projects draw on a variety of methods, including literature reviews, consultation with experts and scenario-building. EU-OSHA organises workshops to gather knowledge, help promote the results and stimulate debate.

Phase 1 of this study comprises an extensive literature review and expert interviews to develop four macro-scenarios looking at Europe in 2040 in the context of the CE and its effects on OSH.

Phase 2 aims at the dissemination and tailoring of the scenarios via stakeholder dialogue and workshops and result in the production of tailored micro-scenarios. The scenarios are used to encourage dialogue and reflection among different stakeholder groups on potential futures, with the aim of informing decision-making today to make work healthier and safer tomorrow.

Phase 3 prioritises sharing findings with policymakers. It involves hosting a collaborative workshop with the Joint Research Centre (JRC), and mapping synergies in the Circular Economy and OSH policy areas. EU-OSHA continues supporting dissemination of the foresight project's results to its stakeholders.