Workers’ safety and health in green jobs
The EU is working hard to balance economic growth with the need to protect the environment, and has set itself challenging targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing energy efficiency and promoting renewable energy, and reducing waste.
This has given rise to a wide range of green jobs — jobs which contribute to preserving the environment, or restoring it to what it was. If they are to be truly sustainable, though, we need to make sure that these jobs provide safe, healthy and decent working conditions. Green jobs need to be good for workers, as well as good for the environment.
What are green jobs?
How is the 'green economy' growing?
Why is it important to consider OSH in green jobs?
We tend to associate the word 'green' with safety — but what is good for the environment is not necessarily good for the safety and health of workers who are employed in green jobs. In some cases already, we have seen new legislation and technologies, designed to protect the environment, resulting in workers being put at greater risk. Reducing the amount of waste being sent to landfills, for example, has resulted in higher rates of accidents and illnesses among workers whose job it is to process it.
The new technologies or working processes associated with green jobs can lead to new hazards, which call for new combinations of skills to deal with them: the 'old' OSH knowledge cannot simply be transferred to them. Installing a solar water heater, for example, involves combining the skills of a roofer, a plumber and an electrician.
The speed at which the green economy is expected to expand could lead to skills gaps, with inexperienced workers involved in processes that they have not been trained for, and who therefore put their safety and health at risk. There may also be a stronger polarisation of the workforce towards skills, with low-skilled workers pushed to accept poorer working conditions. Last but not least, economic and political pressure could lead to OSH concerns being overlooked.
If green jobs are to be truly sustainable, we need to make sure that they benefit workers' safety and health, as well as the environment. In the green economy, as elsewhere, good OSH plays a vital role in increasing competitiveness and productivity. In this fast-developing area, we need to ensure that what is good for the environment is good for workers too.
What is EU-OSHA doing to prevent new and emerging OSH risks in green jobs?
Given how quickly the green economy is expected to grow, it is important that we anticipate any new or emerging OSH risks in relation to green jobs before they appear. That is why EU-OSHA has carried out a detailed foresight study, looking at how work in green jobs is likely to develop by 2020, and what future OSH challenges this may bring. The study has identified a number of possible future scenarios, given developments in green technologies, under different economic and social conditions. The aim is to draw attention to potential OSH risks in this area, and to provide EU policy-makers, in particular, with tools to help them shape the workplaces of tomorrow, and keep Europe's workers safe and healthy.
Know more on:
Practical information on risk prevention in green jobs
EU-OSHA has also investigated in more depth the OSH issues associated with specific green technological areas highlighted in the foresight study, such as small-scale solar energy applications, green construction or wind energy.
Find out more:
- E-fact on OSH and small-scale solar energy applications
- E-fact on OSH and green buildings
- OSH and wind energy: read the report and the summary e-fact
Checklists are also available to help identify the potential hazards to workers’ safety and health associated with these green technologies and to provide examples of preventive measures. These checklists could be used to support the workplace risk assessment process: