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Occupational Health and Safety Economics

Final Report Summary - ECOSH (Occupational Health and Safety Economics)

Injuries at work and ill-health resulting from exposure at work are a considerable burden for workers and the society at large. In addition, there is the economic cost of lost productivity resulting from sick leave and work disability. The impressive progress in this field in the last fifty years has recently slowed down. Therefore, the EU has formulated an active policy to improve the uptake of preventive policy. It is generally believed that economic mechanisms are important here but the way they work is not well understood. It was one of the objectives of the Economics of Occupational Safety and Health project to bring researchers and stakeholders together to further elucidate the economics of safety and health at work. To this end, we organised three workshops. The project was undertaken with: the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, the Belgian Institute Prevent, the Polish Institute NOFER, and the Dutch department of HTA of the VU and the Dutch Coronel Institute.
The business case for OSH consists of arguments that will convince management to approve of investments for OSH. A review of business cases presented showed that most OSH interventions do reduce production losses through less time lost from work. Another case study presented at the workshop showed that it involves professionals from several disciplines, such as accounting, human resources and OSH to elucidate where the costs of injuries and occupational ill-health are located in a firm. It is concluded that the business case for OSH will always contain a mixture of economic, legal and moral arguments. The workshop was attended by 55 OSH professionals and stakeholders and resulted in three scientific publications.
The second workshop was devoted to the measurement of costs and benefits of OSH interventions. The idea is that cost-information enables better decision making. A systematic review identified only 34 occupational health trials that had measured costs alongside health outcomes. The quality of the economic part of these studies was judged as low. Guidelines for improvement of economic evaluation were discussed which resulted in a scientific article. This workshop was organised jointly with the ROWER project, a FP7 sister project. The workshop was attended by 58 OSH professionals and stakeholders and resulted in four publications currently in press.
The third workshop was jointly organised with the EU Agency for Safety and Health at Work on the topic economic incentives. These are defined as monetary incentives provided by the state or insurers. It is believed that economic incentives are more effective and cheaper than regulation in creating safe and healthy workplaces. If economic incentives are better indeed remains to be seen. Insurances usually have monetary incentives in place that will limit the number of claims. However, this does not necessarily mean that this leads to healthier and safer workplaces. A survey of economic incentives in the EU showed that monetary incentives are used and are judged as being effective and cost-beneficial. However, the evaluation methods are not very well elaborated. The workshop was attended by 45 OSH professionals and stakeholders and resulted in three publications currently in press.
One of the main achievements of the project was to bring together for the first time a varied group of researchers and stakeholders from different fields such as economics, occupational safety and health and business administration.
Further research and collaboration projects are certainly necessary to elucidate the role of economics in health and safety at work. There is a need for good evaluation studies of economic incentives, implementation of results of cost-effectiveness studies and good examples of business cases.