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Occupational Health and Safety Economics

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Economics in the work health and safety picture

Europe prides itself on its occupational health and safety (OSH) standards. It is an important field and strongly influenced by economics. Researchers have elaborated on this economic dimension to support EU policy-making.

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Goods and services are produced by workers whose health and safety has a bearing on output efficiency. This economic dimension is an important but not clearly defined aspect, which is why the EU supported the 'Occupational health and safety economics' (ECOSH) project. ECOSH consortium partners in Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland and Finland set out to bring together researchers and stakeholders and present the results of their discussions in three key international events and support activities. The goal was also to bring together new partners to evaluate this dimension, and to reach consensus on methods for cost-benefit analysis, and better define which economic incentives foster safe and healthy workplace practices and productivity. The first workshop in 2008 looked at the role that OSH and OSH-interventions plays on productivity, to assemble evidence and cases verifying the importance of the relationship and to improve the calculation of costs and benefits that ensue. This gathering resulted in three scientific articles appearing in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health, one of the better specialty journals in this area, according to the project partners. The second workshop, held in conjunction with a related EU project, Rower, further developed on the economic evaluation of OSH measures, such as analyses of absenteeism and work attendance, whether researchers can 'generalise' on the results of economic evaluations, and more. This workshop, in 2009, led to a set of guidelines for economic evaluation of OSH-interventions, a systematic review of economic evaluation studies, a study that modelled the costs and benefits of screening (pre-employment) for carpal tunnel syndrome, and a case-study of the transferability of economic evaluations between countries. The third workshop in 2010 on economic incentives was held together with the EU Agency for Safety and Health at Work. Delegates evaluated a range of economic incentives in OSH, how to develop an incentive system in social security insurance, and under which conditions could economic incentives replace regulation. The workshop resulted in a discussion paper on the theory of economic incentives, an overview of the use of economic incentives in the EU and a paper on the relation between economic incentives and culture characteristics. The ECOSH project's work, which ended in 2010, has enabled stakeholders to better cope with the changes in working life in Europe and to maintain and increase Europe's competitiveness.

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