The health and social care sector is one of the largest sectors throughout Europe. It makes a significant contribution to European society, both in terms of the overall health and wellbeing of citizens as well as to the economy. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown how essential and important this sector is.
EU-OSHA’s research project ‘Health and social care sector and occupational safety and health (OSH)’ runs from 2022 to 2026. It aims to provide evidence-based knowledge on the diverse challenges faced by the sector when it comes to the safety and health of its workers in order to increase awareness and guide the policy-making process.
This sector is also one of the most important ones in terms of employment and provides work for those in formal care settings such as hospitals, medical practices and nursing and care homes, but also for care workers looking after individuals in their own homes. All of them are exposed to a wide range of OSH risks, the main ones including the following (non-exhaustive presentation):
- Psychosocial, with workers exposed to violence and harassment, traumatic events, high workload, dealing with people at the end of their lives, the need to multitask, shift work, lone working, burnout, mobbing or bullying and lack of control over work, all of which are known stress factors.
- Ergonomic, linked to lifting loads, prolonged standing, high workload and working in awkward positions.
- Biological, connected to any form of exposure to biological agents such as blood-transmitted pathogens and infectious micro-organisms. They include exposure to COVID-19.
- Chemical, associated to the daily use of drugs or hazardous chemicals, which poses a risk to those exposed to them.
- Physical, such as slips, trips and falls, ionising radiation, noise, and so on.
Moreover, there is a range of contextual factors that affect workers in this sector which cannot be ignored: an ageing population and ageing workforce; health and long-term care systems in need of reform and investment; the right of EU citizens to affordable, preventive and curative good-quality healthcare; the digitalisation of the sector and working conditions often of a lower standard than those for workers in other sectors. The fact that the sector is largely female dominated must also be highlighted.
This project is in line with several EU strategies like the 2021-27 EU strategic framework on health and safety at work and the European Care Strategy. It is developed in the context of the European Pillar of Social Rights and carried out in cooperation with social partners in the sector and international organisations.
The project focuses on the following research areas:
The sector in figures
An updated state of play of OSH in the health and social care sector in the European Union is being carried out. This in-depth comparative research is produced taking into consideration different surveys and publications.
Given the broadness of the healthcare sector, a specific research area focuses on one or a few categories of workers in order to shed light on their particular working conditions and OSH hazards.
This research area addresses the knowledge gaps about OSH in the home care sector. It analyses the specific risks linked to this type of work carried out in uncontrolled conditions with little or no direct supervision nor the measures to prevent them. It puts the focus on developing good practice and encouraging worker participation.
Similar to the home care sector, the research area on long-term care contributes to close the informational gap on the topic, identify the sectoral risks as well as explore preventive measures. It also promotes practical tools and emphasises the importance of worker involvement, social dialogue and good practice.
The emerging and most prevalent occupational risk factors that contribute to the development of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) among these professionals and how to prevent and manage them are explored here. Furthermore, it shares initiatives, good practice and tools aimed at improving the musculoskeletal health of these workers. It also sheds light on the relationship between MSDs and psychosocial wellbeing.
Mental health among this sector’s workers is tackled by inspecting their main occupational psychosocial risk factors and how organisations in the sector manage them, as well as how they interact with other health problems such as cardiovascular diseases and MSDs. The project also provides good practice cases and information on how to retain workers experiencing mental health issues or facilitate their reintegration.
The development of new technologies and their application to the health and social care sector has been substantial over the last few years. In turn, the new possibilities for task automation, the emergence of digital platforms offering care services or the newly acquired digital skills among professionals have made new OSH risks surface, especially psychosocial ones, all of which are tackled in this research.