Workers’ Memorial Day 2016

"Strong Laws - Strong enforcement - Strong Unions"

International Workers’ Memorial Day is commemorated on 28 April every year, with the purpose of remembering those killed at work and fighting to ensure that workers are not killed in the future. In 2016, the theme of the day is "Strong Laws - Strong enforcement - Strong Unions".

EU OSHA has highlighted that where there is leadership from management in an enterprise supported by active worker representation in occupational safety and health then prevention is most effective.

Key elements in an occupational safety and health prevention system include:

  • A legal base
  • An appropriately resourced and trained enforcement authority
  • The means to raise awareness of the hazards, risks, and obligations of duty holders at the workplace
  • The existence of technical support (technical guidance publications and technical services) that is available at the workplace
  • A strategic, tripartite approach occupational safety and health

Motivators for occupational safety and health activities can be broadly categorised as legal, moral, and economic. Legal - that there is an obligation in law, moral - there is a desire not to harm workers, and economic - there is a financial benefit in reducing risks to workers. ESENER, the EU OSHA survey of European Enterprises, has found that the main driver for managing occupational safety and health to be the existence of a legal obligation to do so. This indicates the importance of the existence of a legal base in occupational safety and health.

Just having a legal base is insufficient however as law requires a compliance mechanism. In occupational safety and health, this compliance mechanism is usually a labour inspectorate. In order to operate effectively, the labour inspectorate requires appropriate resourcing and the inspectors needs to be trained and equipped to carry out their work.

The need for awareness raising in occupational safety and health has also been illustrated by the ESENER survey. Over a quarter of all enterprises noted lack of awareness among staff as the main barrier to prevention. If managers are not aware of the hazards and risks in the workplace then they will not be taking action to implement solutions.  Employers, managers, supervisors, workers, and worker representatives need to know their legal duties, the potential hazards and risks in their workplace, and the available solutions to these dangers.

In order to comply with occupational safety and health requirements, employers and other duty holders need access to technical support. This technical support may be in the form of technical guidance (e.g. codes of practice, guidance, standards), information tools, or access to technical services (e.g. work environment monitoring services). For this technical support to exist there needs to be an education system supplying qualified occupational safety and health professionals. EU OSHA’s OiRA tool is an e-tool designed to support small enterprises in carrying out their risk assessments and so prevent harm to workers.

Finally, to ensure that limited resources are used most effectively, there is a need for a strategic approach to safety and health at work. Stakeholders in occupational safety and health, in particularly the social partners (worker and employer representatives), should be involved in the formulation, implementation, and evaluation of the strategy.