Save Europe’s workers: Communication and other challenges

Article published on Nov. 24, 2011
Article published on Nov. 24, 2011
By Lisa Kittel When you arrive in Bilbao, it’s impossible to feel stressed. I mean, I've tried: A day of waiting, flight, waiting, flight, waiting, bus... Looking for a hostel in the middle of the night in Bilbao was dreamlike. A city of calm, full of green spaces, where men clean the streets with water until they are spotless. The few people still on the streets were friendly and relaxed.
If a city as a whole could be considered a workplace, there is probably no better ambiance than in Bilbao for the “Healthy Workplaces Summit on Safe Maintenance”. They must do something right there.

Consider the statistics : in EU 27 there are 168 000 annual work-related deaths, 7 million accidents and 20 million cases of work-related disease. That’s what the EU-OSHA, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, are fighting against. Since their foundation in 2006, they have had two campaigns. At this summit in Bilbao, they brought their second one, “Safe maintenance campaign” to a close.

Besides the Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion Lásló Andor, plus the new director EU-OSHA Christa Sedlatschek, and representatives of governments and social partners, the OSH mascot Napo (photo) was present, always ready to flirt with the public and with political representatives. Napo not only got participants in touch with their inner child, he is also a successful element of what the commissioner calls “making Europe’s occupational safety and health strategy a reality on the ground”. The team itself was surprised about the popularity of the cute, big worker in blue trousers.

OSH communication consultant Peter Rimmer presented other measures to make people aware of this important but technical topic. They launched a video where a Brazilian rapper makes work safety the issue of his song. “Television is still the easiest way to approach the workers, but also the most expensive. That’s why we had to be creative.”

Another example of an intelligent awareness building strategy for enterprises, workers and of course, the young folks, is the EU-OSHA photo competition 2011. The photos were very varied; some were funny and included animals, some were provocative, some made you think. The amazing photos were shown at a dinner on Tuesday night. Have a look at them! Krysztof Maksymiwicz received the first prize of 3000 Euro.

OiRA, a Online interactive Risk assessment tool launched officially in September on the XIX World Congress on Safety and Health at Work in Istanbul shall help especially the 20 million micro and small enterprises to improve their safety and take a burden from them. The reasons companies are not carrying out checks are lack of expertise (41%), the belief that risk assessments are too expensive or that they are overly time consuming (38%). Now, health and safety for their workers shall be available by assessing risks through an easy-to-use and cost free web application.

"Can small size enterprises be more competitive and healthy at the same time?" asked one Greek journalist. Christa Sedladtschek, the new director of the European Agency for Safetey and Health at work answered: “From my German background I can say that highly qualified people are key figures. We have to keep them healthy. In Greece, I don’t know the exact situation but this will be the outcome” Nevertheless she prefers not to compare countries nor to tell them what to do: “We only provide a platform where companies can talk and find confidence. Help does never work from the outside but only together with all participants.”

And Belgium? Pay attention next time you’re using the metro because the STIB received a European Good Practice Award for the construction of a metro depot. EU-OSHA summarized: “The consideration of all aspects of the work organization, individuals, equipment and work environment have led to the design and construction which guarantees a maximum of safety and wellbeing of the staff.” This includes, for example, openings on the roof to improve lighting, ventilation, and the evacuation of heat and smoke. Just as important is that connecting corridors are isolated from electrically hazardous areas.

Although all over Europe a lot has been done, and the OSHA-Team sees itself on the right path, there are still some future challenges: To continue with identifying risks, awareness building, networking and providing tools to enterprises. Furthermore; taking into account modifications of the job market because of the current economic situation, the gender perspective because there are different risks for men and women, the psychological risks and new forms of work organization. So workplaces in Europe are on a good way. But, returning to my first impressions, the social- economic situation in the Basque Country is indeed better than in the rest of Spain and Europe. They must be doing something right.