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June 27, 2010

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Don’t scrimp on safety to ride out recession, Euro Agency warns

The recession has significantly affected workplace health and safety across Europe, both positively and negatively, according to the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work.

In the foreword to the Agency’s annual report for 2009, launched today (Monday), director Jukka Takala said the slowdown in economic activity may have resulted in a decrease in fatalities and reported injuries, but problems like stress have escalated among those workers who have more to do to absorb the work previously done by others who were made redundant.

Warning organisations not to “abandon long-term benefits for short-term gains”, Takala said: “Spending on workplace health and safety should be seen as an investment, not a cost. With 80 per cent of European managers reporting workplace accidents as their main concern, we cannot afford to make cuts in workplace health and safety.”

The Agency believes that the strategic five-year EU target of reducing accident rates by 25 per cent may be more easily reached as a result of the economic crisis, although this will not be down to “real improvements”. Jukka Takala praised “enlightened employers” who are not using the downturn as an excuse to cut back on health and safety and instead are preparing for better times ahead by “introducing more part-time work and job rotation to try to avoid redundancies among their workforce while still reducing their wage bills, and retaining their experienced staff as an investment”.

The report acknowledges that 2009 was a difficult year throughout Europe but the Agency nevertheless continued to emphasise the importance of health and safety to the overall success of businesses. The three key areas in which its activities were grouped were: collecting and analysing information – particularly via the European Risk Observatory and the Working Environment Information Unit; communication, campaigning and promotion – especially in and around the theme of risk assessment and the European Week for Safety and Health at Work; and developing the health and safety network via focal points in the European Member States, EFTA countries, and those in the pre-accession programme.

The full annual report can be downloaded by clicking here.

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