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European workers are losing influence on OSH management

A pan-European study by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) claims arrangements for workers to engage in influencing occupational safety and health (OSH) management in their workplaces is declining in Europe.

European workers are losing influence on OSH management
© Cultura/REX/Shutterstock

At the same time, the research identifies an increase in the use of management systems approaches to OSH as managers or specialists take on responsibility for safety and health management.

The qualitative study builds on EU-OSHA’s second European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER-2).

The researchers interviewed with managers and worker representatives from 143 private and public sector establishments of varying sizes in seven EU member states: Belgium, Estonia, Greece, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Even in those countries with the most significant worker representation, such as Sweden, “highly effective practices for worker participation in OSH were seen in only a small number of establishments surveyed, suggesting that good worker representation is far from the norm,” the researchers say.

The study examined why practice in workplaces appeared not to meet the statutory provisions that entitle all EU workers to OSH representation and consultation and why the proportion of workplaces without representative arrangements is increasing. The researchers report that the decline is due in part to the fact that legislation on representation is often “facilitatory rather than compulsory” and that regulatory inspectors rarely enforce worker representation in establishments. They also note the change in industrial demographics; fewer workers are now employed in traditionally unionised workplaces.

The research findings also pointed to an increase in the use of management systems approaches to OSH, with a manager or specialist responsible for safety and health management. The study found many examples where worker representation had become less effective. Worker representatives had become less autonomous and had become “the eyes and ears of safety managers”.

The quantitative ESENER-2 analysis published last year, drew on a poll of 50,000 workplaces in the 28 EU countries. It reconfirmed the association between the presence of worker consultation arrangements and OSH management best practice in organisations.

Most of the interviewees were selected from respondents who had participated in ESENER-2 and had agreed to be contacted for the follow-up investigations. They were also drawn equally from three sectors: private manufacturing, the public sector and private services.

The researchers’ analysis also drew on a literature review and additional interviews with key informants in relevant organisations as well as further quantitative analysis of relevant ESENER-2 data.


Nic Warburton is acting editor, IOSH Magazine

 Nick Warburton is acting editor of IOSH Magazine. He is a former editor of SHP and has also worked on Local Authority Waste and Recycling and Environmental Health Practitioner


  • It has been my experienc

    Permalink Submitted by Paul Underhill on 1 July 2019 - 08:58 am

    It has been my experience that health and safety consultation with employees in the UK is poor particularly where the workforce is non-unionised. The failings range from complete ignorance of the requirement to consult with employees on matters that may affect their health and safety, through to ineffective methods being utilised.
    Many employers arrangements (for consultation) written into their health and safety management system but fail to implement them, others implement the arrangements but do not select employees from the shop floor, relying instead on a purely management group - talk about an 'us and them' attitude! Whilst others have ad-hoc meetings where employees are given information, without the opportunity to ask questions, or give any reply... Even where consultation with employees occurs it is often not recorded and is supported only by vague statements from employees who cannot remember much about the content.
    Irrespective of the size or locational diversity of the workforce, effective means of communication between the employer and employee must be achieved. Aside of the legal requirements, consultation is a vital tool in the process of maintaining a safe place to work and involving employees in the decision making process, that in turn promotes a positive health and safety culture.


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