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Fit For Work EuropeThe Work Foundation

Fit EU Blog

Discourse on work and wellbeing in the EU

Archive for June, 2014

EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2014-2020

Friday, June 6th, 2014

Response from The Work Foundation and the Fit for Work Europe Coalition

The Work Foundation, part of Lancaster University, is an applied research and policy think tank which specialises on the health of the working age population. The Fit for Work Europe Coalition has, since 2009, been conducting research on the impact of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) of the health and productivity of workers across all EU Member States.

In response to the Strategic Framework, Prof Stephen Bevan, Director of the Centre for Workforce Effectiveness at The Work Foundation and Founding President of Fit for Work Europe, said:

1. We welcome the strategic framework as it recognises that workplace health and safety are critical areas to sustained economic recovery, especially as the workforce ages and as increasing labour productivity becomes a strategic priority.

2. We are concerned that the strategic framework places little emphasis on a number of workforce health issues which have a significant impact both on workers and on the businesses where they work. For example, it is clear from our own research that EU workforce health and safety cannot merely focus on the workplace causes of ill-health among workers. Pre-existing conditions which are exacerbated by work, or co-morbid health conditions where non-work factors are important and lead to workplace consequences (i.e. lost productivity, presenteeism) must also be given priority, as should the wider psychological climate of workplaces.

3. We are increasingly convinced that joined-up efforts to promote workforce health are required. We feel that the strategic framework should reflect the need for cross-silo investment in workforce health across government at national level and at EC level. We are concerned that, with austerity policies, there has been a more narrow focus on initiatives which are low cost, low risk and which do not prioritise early intervention or prevention. In addition, EU-OSH should be focusing more on coordinating efforts in national health systems to prioritise work as a clinical outcome of treatment among people of working age. Unless the expertise of OH professionals is included more prominently in the way workers with health condition receive access to health treatments which support job retention and return to work, our experience tells us that ‘work ability’ will not be given sufficient priority.

4. The strategic framework should also focus on providing more practical support for employers to make workplace adaptations & to focus on job retention among employees with long-term or chronic conditions. Dissemination of national examples of early interventions which deliver good workplace, clinical and economic results Highlighting case studies of cross-agency working at national level where employers, health systems and welfare interventions combine to promote job retention and return to work for more workers whose jobs are at risk. We would like to see existing legislation on workplace accommodations for people with MSDS, for example, focus on early intervention, and recognise the effect on work ability of pre-existing and comorbid conditions which are not caused directly by work, Specific support for small and medium-sized enterprises should also be targeted.

5. We were very disappointed that the proposed MSD Directive was abandoned after several years of development work. MSDs are the leading cause of sickness absence in Europe, accounting for half of all absences and 60% of permanent work incapacity. In addition, MSDs cost up to 2% of EU GDP, i.e. around €240bn in costs to the continent each year. Our experience is that, in matters of workforce health and safety – requiring a strategic approach – social dialogue can undermine bold, visionary and forward-looking initiatives as a result of narrow, sectional positions being taken. While seeking consensus is to be encouraged, we are concerned that measures to mitigate the negative impact of foreseeable long-term, demographic and epidemiologically important health changes in the working age population in the EU will be undermined by the occasional short-term and self-interested nature of some aspects of the social dialogue process. We would like to see the strategic framework reflect this need more explicitly.

– Ends –

Notes to editors

1. Prof Stephen Bevan, Director of the Centre for Workforce Effectiveness at The Work Foundation and Founding President of Fit for Work Europe, is available for interviews, briefings and written comment.

2. The Work Foundation transforms people’s experience of work and the labour market through high quality applied research that empowers individuals and influences public policies and organisational practices.

3. Fit for Work Europe is a multi-stakeholder Coalition, driving policy and practice change across the work and health agendas in then UK and Europe. We aim to deliver more investment in sustainable healthcare by promoting and implementing early intervention practices. Research shows this approach is the most effective way of ensuring people with MSDs (musculoskeletal disorders) can enter and remain in work across the EU and globally. Fit for Work Europe is a project led by The Work Foundation, supported by AbbVie and GE Healthcare.

4. Fit for Work Europe submitted a response to the EU-OSHA consultation on the new EU Occupational Safety and Health Policy Framework (2014-2020), which can be read here.

 

Media enquiries:

Ioana Piscociu, 020 7976 3526, ipiscociu@theworkfoundation.com

For urgent out-of-hours enquiries: 0755 178 14 06

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Posted in Europe, Health Policy, Labour policy, Press Releases | Comments Off on EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2014-2020
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Ageing, Health and Work: The Need for True Grit

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

 

Prof Stephen Bevan, Founding President of Fit for Work Europe

Prof Stephen Bevan, Founding President of Fit for Work Europe

 

This week I had the pleasure of attending the first Uppsala Health Summit in the beautiful University City of Uppsala in Sweden. The theme of the conference was ageing and health and I was invited to speak on behalf of the Fit for Work Europe Coalition.

The event, hosted by the University of Uppsala, was first addressed by Mr Ulf Kristersson, Sweden’s Minister for Social Security who presented some compelling data about demographics in Sweden. Among other things, he explained that the data on ageing among the Swedish population also masked a significant reduction in inequality in life expectancy. While an inequality gap still exists Sweden has succeeded in reducing some of the negative impact of the main social determinants of ill-health.

Later in the day I presented as part of a panel session on the use of technology, diagnostics and screening to improve health outcomes for older people. My focus was on the need to regard early diagnosis and early intervention for musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) as an investment rather than a cost, especially if the outcomes had a wider societal value (such as the ability to remain in work). I used the example of narrow policy and financial silos which, in the case of rheumatoid arthritis in the UK, the economic case for NHS investment in early treatment was made very forcibly by the National Audit Office (NAO) back in 2009. Despite this, the NHS has not prioritised early intervention, thereby forgoing the threefold return on investment in labour productivity which the NAO economic model predicted. One participant at the conference likened this example to the annual debate in Sweden about the cost of gritting roads and pavements. Local authorities are under pressure to minimise the cost of gritting, but the health system then has to bear the cost of older Swedes suffering injuries, fractures and trauma from slips and falls on icy surfaces. As the delegate concluded, the evidence that gritting is cost-effective is clear, but politicians choose to pursue short-term savings instead of doing ‘the right thing’.

I argued that the judicious use of diagnostic technologies and medical interventions which can help older workers with chronic conditions to remain active and at work – especially if this was good quality work – would enhance the health of individuals and improve workforce productivity. In addition, I reminded delegates that a high proportion (up to 65%) of working age people with MSDs are the main income earner in their household and that having to leave the labour market prematurely as a result of poor health can have dire financial consequences for individuals and their families. My plea to the conference was to ensure that healthcare decision-makers routinely consider that remaining in work might be a clinically and socially desirable outcome for older patients and that, as we all have to work longer and retire later, this consideration will become a necessity rather than an optional extra.

In many ways, the resolution to this dilemma lies in being clear about both who pays for these interventions and who stands to benefit. As we heard at our Fit for Work Summit in October 2013, it is possible for different parts of the system (eg Health & Social Security) to share both the costs and the benefits of joined-up interventions rather than just opting for the cheapest, short-term option. As one delegate suggested, our politicians have a democratic mandate to make common-sense decisions where spending leads to savings. It is a shame, he reflected, that so few have the political bravery to put these principles into practice – especially as so many stand to benefit.

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Posted in Early Intervention, Europe, Health Economics, Health Policy, Musculoskeletal Disorders | Comments Off on Ageing, Health and Work: The Need for True Grit
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