Web ExclusiveAgainst a background of continuing economic uncertainty, in its 2012 annual report the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) shows how it has continued to work hard to promote the importance of good occupational safety and health, for businesses of all sizes.

Speaking at a time when a successor to the European Community strategy on health and safety at work (2007-2012) is under debate, EU-OSHA Director Dr Christa Sedlatschek argues that the economic and ethical case for good workplace health and safety needs to be made as strongly as ever.

“At the moment we are seeing the effects of the economic crisis,” says Dr Sedlatschek, with cuts in spending on occupational safety and health (OSH), across the entire European Union. But “smart companies are aware of the importance, in tough times, of maintaining their levels of support for workplace health and safety: eventually we will see an improvement in the economic situation, and then these businesses will need healthy, qualified people working in them.”

Highlights of the year include the completion of EU-OSHA’s flagship Foresight project, which anticipates longer-term workplace risks (initially in relation to “‘green” jobs), to stimulate debate, and make clear to decision-makers the implications of particular courses of action.

The European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER) has given us a real-time picture of how some important workplace risks are being managed in Europe, especially psychosocial risks such as work-related stress, violence and harassment. The focus of this project has now shifted to secondary analysis of the data that the initial survey has produced.

2012 saw the launch of the new Healthy Workplaces Campaign, entitled “Working together for risk prevention.” This campaign has seen the involvement of a record number of partners: in total, 87 pan-European organizations, social partners and multinational companies have joined.

The agency has continued to develop its free online interactive risk assessment (OiRA) software, for carrying out risk assessments in a straightforward and cost-effective way. Specific tools are being made available covering hairdressing and office work in Cyprus, road transport in France, and the leather and tanning industry throughout the EU.

2012 was the European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations, and EU-OSHA took an active part in it, making information available on how to help employees stay fit for work for longer.

Awareness-raising activities have included a campaign that alerts workers and employers to changes in hazard pictograms for dangerous substances through a new online toolkit, the ‘Napo for Teachers’ initiative to introduce basic health and safety knowledge to primary school children, and the ‘Smoke-Free Workplaces’ campaign.

Finally, EU-OSHA has begun a series of consultations around its next multi-annual strategic program, which is due to come into effect in 2013.