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Research needed to improve safety at work

In 1996 over 5,500 people died in accidents at work in Europe. 4 in 100 of all workers were involved in an accident that year. These figures, reported by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, formed a backdrop to a workshop examining the European dimension in impr...

In 1996 over 5,500 people died in accidents at work in Europe. 4 in 100 of all workers were involved in an accident that year. These figures, reported by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, formed a backdrop to a workshop examining the European dimension in improving health and safety at work. The workshop noted that there has been no specific health and safety research under the various EU framework programmes for research and development. They also identified a need for the early identification of emerging risks. In the United Kingdom, the Health and Safety executive (HSE) is undertaking its own forward look at technological trends and how these are likely to impact on health and safety. Potential new trends are posted on the HSE's Internet site. However traditional as well as new risks need continued attention. The construction sector is still the most dangerous place to work and the greatest number of accidents took place in small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) simply because this sector employs the majority of the working population. The SME sector is also least able to resource top down health and safety actions. An ageing workforce presents its own problems. Although at present only 36 per cent of 55 to 64 year olds are in paid work compared to 68 per cent for 15 to 64 year olds, this proportion is likely to increase. This will have consequences for 'normal' work practices involving physical demands. The workshop considered methods for improving health and safety records. While legislation and enforcement was seen to have a role, the most successful strategy seemed to be one used in Sweden. Since 1974, workers were encouraged to participate in accident prevention by becoming regional safety representatives. These workers inspected working conditions in SMEs and promoted local risk prevention actions. Studies carried out suggest that this system provides better support for SMEs and produces better results than those provided by factory inspectors. Frequently during the workshop, opinion and case study evidence was cited in support of the argument that, without an evidence base and a forum for the exchange of information about best practice, the situation is unlikely to improve. This was the reason for the establishment of the European Agency for Safety and Health.