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Healthy workplaces - a top priority in Europe: Reducing accidents and diseases by better assessing workplace risks

July 2008

Every three-and-a-half minutes somebody in the EU dies from work-related causes. This means that almost 167,000 deaths a year result from either work-related accidents or occupational diseases. Most of these accidents and diseases are preventable, and the first step in preventing them is risk assessment.

That is the message of "Healthy Workplaces: Good for you. Good for business. A European campaign on Risk Assessment", the new Europe-wide information campaign launched by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA).

The campaign focuses especially on high-risk sectors such as construction, healthcare and agriculture, and on the needs of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). It will run over two years (2008-2009) and contribute to the objectives of the Community Strategy related to Health and Safety at Work (2007-2012), which aims to cut work-related accidents by a quarter across the EU.

Backed by the EU Presidencies, the European Parliament, the European Commission and the social partners, the campaign is running in all EU Member States and beyond.

Risk assessment is key to reducing accidents and workplace illness

Risk assessment is the process of systematically evaluating the risks to workers' safety and health from workplace hazards. It looks at all aspects of the workplace and the work that is carried out there, considering what could cause harm, whether hazards, accident risks or longer term health risks can be eliminated, and if not, what preventive or protective measures should be put in place.

The Healthy Workplaces campaign encourages companies to carry out their assessments properly, involving everyone in the workplace, and promotes successful good practice that can be adapted to a variety of workplaces.

Risk assessment is a powerful tool that enables employers to understand the action they need to take to eliminate or minimise the risks and to identify and take the measures necessary to protect the safety and health of their workers. It is the start of the process of safety and health management.

Risk assessment is at the heart of occupational safety and health policies

Despite many improvements in health and safety, every year millions of EU workers are injured or have their health seriously harmed at work. Many companies all over Europe are already carrying out successful risk assessments. However, empirical data shows there is still room for improvement, especially among SMEs.

Apart from their moral responsibilities, employers in the EU have a legal duty to protect their employees and to ensure their safety and health in every aspect related to work. The Framework Directive 89/391 has been incorporated into national law in all Member States and places a legal obligation on employers to manage occupational safety and health in their workplaces.

According to this directive, employers are legally required to carry out effective risk assessments as part of an on-going process of risk management. Some Member States have even stricter requirements for employers to protect workers.

Risk assessment has business and economic benefits

Workplace accidents and illnesses are costly. There is the human cost for workers and their families; there is the cost for organisations when things go wrong, including the cost of reduced productivity. And there are costs for governments, as accidents and illness place a burden on healthcare systems.

Creating safe working conditions enables companies to cut costs arising from occupational accidents and illness. Proper risk assessment helps reduce rates of sick leave, and insurance costs come down with fewer claims. More highly motivated workers are more productive and efficient, and staff turnover rates fall. This all helps businesses become more competitive.

Risk assessment is no mystery

The evaluation of workplace hazards can be a challenge, especially for small businesses. But risk assessment is not necessarily complicated, bureaucratic, or a task only for experts. A simple, step-by-step approach is often all that is needed, and many resources and examples of good practice are available to help make the process easier.

The Healthy Workplaces campaign wants to demystify the process, promoting a simple five-step approach, and encourage companies to carry out their risk assessment in-house on an ongoing basis.

Central campaign features

EU-OSHA launched the Healthy Workplaces campaign on Risk Assessment with a press conference in Brussels on 13 June 2008. Jukka Takala, Director of EU-OSHA, highlighted the importance of the campaign topic and gave an insight into the campaign activities that will take place over the coming two years. Commissioner Vladimír Špidla put the campaign in the wider context of the Community Strategy for Health and Safety at Work (2007-2012). The Slovenian EU Presidency will be represented by Romana Tomc, State Secretary of Labour, Family and Social Affairs.

The Healthy Workplaces campaign engages a wide range of businesses and organisations to get the key messages across to their partners. Participating organisations and individuals can download a personalised certificate or show their commitment by getting involved as a campaign sponsor or partner.

During the European Week for Safety and Health at Work (20-26 October 2008 and 19-25 October 2009), a series of events will be organised involving the Agency's network of focal points, which are usually the national OSH authorities in each Member State.

The campaign also features Good Practice Awards, which recognise companies and organisations that have made outstanding contributions in promoting risk assessment in the workplace.

A wide variety of campaign materials are available in 22 EU languages and can be downloaded from the campaign website. Included are awareness-raising posters and leaflets, factsheets, examples of good practice, quizzes, animations featuring the popular cartoon character Napo, a magazine providing technical information, and tips on how to organise and manage activities.

The site also provides access to risk assessment tools, for instance checklists by sector and hazard, to help with the practical aspects of risk assessments. All this material is available free for organisations to use, and to distribute among their stakeholders and partners.

How to get involved

EU-OSHA encourages individuals and organisations to get involved in the campaign, and to organise their own events and activities during the European Weeks or at any other time during the campaign.

For more information on events and how to become involved, get in touch with the focal point in your country. The contact details can be found on the campaign website.

For organisations planning their own events for the European Week, our website provides examples of good practice, as well as forums for sharing ideas, giving feedback, and finding out what other people are doing. Please also check the Partners section on the campaign website.

Good health and safety is good business, and proper risk assessment is worth investing in.

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