Impact of economic crisis on occupational health and safety management

The findings of a recent survey carried out on behalf of Germany’s major health insurers indicate that companies in manufacturing industries with between 50 and 499 employees are showing less interest in implementing occupational health and safety management than they used to because of the economic crisis. Desired support includes information on regional/sectoral good practice and tax deductible expenditure as well as individual assistance by external experts.

Background

As in many industrialised countries, the concept of systematic occupational health and safety (OSH) management – consisting of risk analyses, planning of measures, implementation and evaluation – became popular in Germany following regulatory reforms which changed OSH regulations from a prescriptive style to a more ‘self-regulatory’ model. The number of external inspections by public bodies decreased and companies were encouraged to call in external support – namely health and accident insurers – to voluntarily establish an OSH management system. In Germany, health and accident insurers have a statutory obligation to be involved in OSH activities.

Data on the distribution of systematic OSH management is rare. Previous findings (DE0902019I) revealed that insurers’ involvement in workplace health promotion was very unevenly spread across sectors and that it was strongest in the manufacturing industries. The findings (in German, 509Kb PDF) of a new survey published by IGA (Initiative Gesundheit und Arbeit) – a research body set up by Germany’s major health and accident insurers – suggest that the economic crisis increased a lack of interest in OSH management in Germany.

Methodology

The survey (random sampling procedure) was carried out in 2009 by TNS Infratest and covered companies in the manufacturing industries with between 50 and 499 employees. The target group was chosen because of its above-average interest in OSH programmes. The aim of the survey was to investigate why, even in these industries, OSH management is not implemented by most companies and what management considers supportive measures to be.

Findings

OSH management by company size

The findings, not surprisingly, show that only about a third (36%) of all companies had set up OSH management (Table 1). The survey found that larger establishments are more willing to do so and that OSH management is more often implemented when a works council is in place in a company.

Table 1: Implementation of OSH management according to company size, 2009
  Company size according to number of employees
  50–99 100–199 200–499 Total
OSH management is implemented 35% 30% 47% 36%
Is not implemented 64% 69% 49% 63%
Implementation is completed 0% 1% 3% 1%

Source: Bechmann et al (2010)

Of those companies that did not implement OSH management, 84% did not do so because of ‘every day business’. More than 74% claimed a ‘lack of resources’ or reported that ‘other issues were more relevant’. Lack of interest on the part of either the employees or the management was reported by slightly more than half of all companies having up to 199 workers, but less often by larger ones.

The positive impact of OSH management was questioned by 36% of all small companies, by 27% of the large ones and by 19% of the medium-sized companies. This perception could not be explained by a lack of information as considerably more medium-sized companies (31%) stated ‘lack of information on OSH management’ as the reason than small (20%) and large companies (7%).

Economic crisis impacts on OSH management

Overall, the economic crisis impacted rather negatively on interest in OSH management. Most establishments said that the implementation of OSH management was of less importance than before (Table 2). However, 9% of the establishments that had not previously implemented OSH management planned to do so within the next 12 months. Another 7% had no opinion and 84% did not plan to take action.

Table 2: OSH management in the economic crisis, 2009
  Future importance of OSH management in the face of the economic crisis
  Less significant More significant No change
Not implemented 50% 7% 40%
Implemented 17% 13% 70%
Total 38% 9% 51%

Source: Bechmann et al (2010)

Support wanted

Asked which measures might motivate the company to start implementing OSH management, the range of answers listed in Table 3 was given. They indicate a strong interest in networking (55% of companies), tax deductible items (52%) and individual assistance by external experts (48%).

Table 3: Support wanted for implementing OSH management by companies not previously involved in its implementation
Measure wanted Share of companies that had not implemented OSH management
Good practice case studies (region/sector) 55%
Information on tax deductibles 52%
Individual support by health insurers 48%
Central clearing point/hotline 42%
Regional network 34%
Individual support through employers’ liability insurance association 33%
More practical support/internet 29%
Individual support from other institutions 22%
Media information 18%
Other 18%

Source: Bechmann et al (2010)

Commentary

Overall, the results are not particularly surprising. However, as ‘best practice’ industries were surveyed it can be assumed that the economic crisis had a considerable negative effect on other sectors that were strongly hit by the crisis. As external support is provided on demand, the future prospects for OSH management are not bright.

Reference

Bechmann, S., Jäckle, R., Lück, P. and Herdegen, R., Motive und Hemmnisse für Betriebliches Gesundheitsmanagement (BGM), IGA-Report 20, AOK-Bundesverband, BKK Bundesverband, Deutsche Gesetzliche Unfallversichung (DGUV) and Verband der Ersatzkassen e.v. (VDEK), Berlin, 2010, available online at http://www.dnbgf.de/fileadmin/texte/Downloads/uploads/dokumente/DNBGF2010/iga_report_20_KMU.pdf.

Birgit Kraemer, Institute of Economic and Social Research (WSI)

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