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.
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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.
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