ESENER: how do European workplaces manage health and safety risks in practice?

For the past 25 years, EU-OSHA has provided reliable information and tools to advance occupational safety and health (OSH) knowledge across Europe. The European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER), one of EU‑OSHA’s biggest and most influential projects, has been integral to these efforts.

One of EU-OSHA’s big achievements is that it is now so well connected to businesses throughout Europe. Flagship projects such as ESENER help to strengthen this by identifying their needs.

Dr Christa Sedlatschek, EU-OSHA Director

What is ESENER?

ESENER is a major survey that seeks to understand how European workplaces tackle OSH risks. Through interviews with thousands of establishments, ESENER gathers real-time data from enterprises across the EU and beyond on important topics such as:

  • how general OSH risks are managed in the workplace;
  • approaches to managing psychosocial risks, such as stress, bullying and harassment;
  • identification of key drivers of and barriers to OSH management;
  • worker participation in health and safety practices.

The fieldwork of the ESENER-1 survey took place in 2009, involving nearly 36,000 interviews with managers and health and safety reps in 31 countries, including all the EU Member States. The interviewees worked in private and public sector organisations with 10 or more employees.

To better understand the findings, in-depth analyses on specific topics were carried out. The results, launched in 2010, revealed that over 40 % of employers found that psychosocial risks were more challenging than ‘traditional’ OSH risks due to the sensitivity of the issue. Meanwhile, only 30% of managers reported that procedures had been established to deal with psychosocial risks, even though 79 % considered stress was a concern.

EU-OSHA developed a data visualisation tool, the Interactive Survey Dashboard, to enable users to further explore the findings.

A second edition of the survey was completed in 2014. ESENER-2 was even more extensive with nearly 50,000 establishments interviewed. The number of countries participating increased to 36 and micro enterprises employing 5 to 10 workers were included too, as well as establishments in agriculture, forestry and fishing.

Similar to ESENER-1 the results show that the main driver for European establishments to manage OSH is complying with the legal framework. However, among those establishments that do not carry out risk assessments, the main reason not to do so is the belief that they have no major issues or problems. While ‘having to deal with difficult customers, patients, pupils etc.’ is the most frequently reported risk factor among European establishments (57%), and especially in service sectors, factors leading to MSDs are very frequently reported across all activity sectors.

Why is ESENER important?

There is no other comparable EU-level information source on OSH management, so ESENER has proven to be an invaluable tool for policy-makers. The wealth of up-to-date data that the survey provides helps in developing better policies to make workplaces safer, healthier and more productive.

Anticipating new and emerging OSH risks has become ever more important as work itself and the context in which it takes place changes increasingly rapidly. ESENER-3, whose fieldwork took place between April and July 2019, has been expanded and updated to include topics such as the effects of digitalisation and how demographic change is taken into account. The results, to be released early in 2020, will shed light on underexplored and significant areas of OSH.

At EU-OSHA, we hope that this innovative survey will help us to understand OSH risks and how they are managed in Europe’s workplaces for the 25 years to come and beyond.