The wellbeing of the European workforce is key to a sustainable economic recovery, according to the head of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA).

Introducing his last Annual Report as Agency Director, Dr Jukka Takala emphasised the danger that the economic crisis might push people out of employment permanently, and that huge numbers might find themselves excluded from the job market, because of long-term ill health.

“For the whole of the EU, we can estimate the production loss from people being excluded from work on health and disability grounds at 3,000 billion Euros – every year. For comparison, the emergency measures that were introduced to stabilise the Greek economy cost in the range of 110 billion Euros, and those for Ireland 85 billion, just as a one-off.”

For Dr Takala, it is important that future economic growth should be inclusive, creating conditions that enable people to continue at work, safely and healthily.

“‘We need to ensure not just that current jobs are safe, healthy and productive; we should strive towards a safe, healthy, productive, sustainable, satisfying and motivating working life.”

The Annual Report for 2010 emphasises the ways in which the Agency has continued to work to protect the safety and health of European workers, in spite of these difficult economic conditions. One highlight has been the opening of the Healthy Workplaces Campaign on Safe Maintenance – the Agency’s two-year health and safety campaigns are now the largest of their kind in the world. The Safe Maintenance Campaign has seen record numbers of partner organisations being involved in it.

The Agency has also published the results of the European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER), which, for the first time, provides real-time data from enterprises across Europe on what they are doing to tackle occupational risks (specifically psychosocial risks).

Another highlight of 2010 was the Agency’s piloting of the Online interactive Risk Assessment tool (OiRA), which is the legacy of the Healthy Workplaces Campaign on Risk Assessment 2008-09. The OiRA tool, which the Agency is making available for free, will help many thousands of small companies across the EU to carry out risk assessments in a simple and cost-effective way.

Looking ahead, highlights of 2011 include the second year of the Safe Maintenance Campaign, including the closing event in November. The Agency continues with the detailed study of the results of the ESENER survey, and planning is being carried out for the next Healthy Workplaces Campaign – for 2012-2013 – on the subject of working together for risk prevention.