KANBrief 2/12

OSHWiki, examples of good practice and tools for SMEs: EU-OSHA provides help in the field

Since September 2011, the post of Director of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work
(EU-OSHA) in Bilbao has been held by the Austrian Dr Christa Sedlatschek. Dr Sedlatschek reports on the Agency’s current projects and focus of its work.

As the new Director of EU-OSHA, where do you intend to place the focus in future?

Above all, EU-OSHA will address the impacts of demographic change in the coming years, particularly by exploring ways of improving workers’ fitness for work. Further important topics are the use of new technologies and substances and the associated risks, and a holistic prevention approach, above all at company level. The focus here lies upon the development and dissemination of tools suitable for use in the field, particularly by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

By means of targeted marketing efforts and promotion of the topics at European, national, regional and company level, all parties responsible are to be made aware that healthy employees are crucial to the medium- and long-term survival of “healthy” companies. We are also planning to publish facts and figures which demonstrate clearly that investment in employees pays off on both the business and macroeconomic levels.

One of the Agency’s coming campaigns will deal with psychosocial risks. What importance do you attach to standardization in this area?

In principle, the systematic approach dictated by standardization is to be welcomed. Generally however, it must be recognized that standards are not always the ideal solution to problems such as stress. Instead, a very cautious procedure adjusted to the conditions should be adopted. I know from my own experience however that ISO 10075, “Ergonomic principles related to mental work-load”, is both recognized and used in Germany. Even though this standard does not describe any practical approaches, it nevertheless simplifies the addressing of mental stresses, since it provides a sound basis by harmonizing definitions and obviating the need for principles to be defined.

Are standards in the area of personnel management, social responsibility, etc. beneficial, or is it better for these subjects to be addressed in other ways?

As already mentioned, systematic approaches are in principle desirable. It should however be clear to all parties involved at plant level that only a company itself can translate standards into concrete activity. Management systems must always be adapted to the underlying conditions and the needs of all stakeholders within a company. Only then will they be accepted by the workforce.

The EU-OSHA report entitled “Mental health promotion in the workplace” shows clearly that numerous initiatives and programmes exist. These employ different approaches and tools, and do so very effectively and sustainably. The report presents examples of good practice from throughout Europe and shows the importance of a holistic approach to prevention and healthcare promotion. At the same time, it is clear that good leadership and the co-operation of all employees represents the basis for the effective implementation of measures.

OSHWiki, the occupational safety and health encyclopaedia, goes online next year. What exactly is it all about?

EU-OSHA is currently developing a “Wikipedia”, OSHWiki, on the subject of occupational safety and health. It is scheduled for launch in 2013 and will provide official, comprehensive and upto- date information. In addition, it is intended to provide experts with the opportunity to pool information and to work together in real time. This in turn will enable the wealth of knowledge held by players within the world of OSH, such as practitioners, researchers, etc., to be used effectively.

In order to assure the quality of the content, EU-OSHA will grant write access to OSHWiki only to recognized OSH experts (practitioners, researchers and representatives of public institutions). The sources of all articles will be stated.