Health and well-being at work - Q2 2014 (EurWORK topical update)

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18 Februar 2015

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New strategic framework on health and safety at work

On 6 June 2014, the European Commission presented its new Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2014–2020. The document identifies key challenges and strategic objectives for health and safety at work and presents key actions and instruments to address the issues.

The strategy identifies three major challenges:

  • improving implementation of existing health and safety rules with special attention to micro and small companies;
  • improving prevention of work-related disease by tacking new, emerging risks;
  • taking the ageing of the population in Europe into account.

It is proposed to address these challenges by:

  • further consolidating national strategies by mutual learning;
  • offering practical support for small companies;
  • improving enforcement by Member States by, for example, evaluating the performance of national labour inspectorates;
  • eliminating unnecessary administrative burdens;
  • addressing the ageing of the workforce;
  • improving monitoring tools;
  • strengthening coordination with international organisations to help reduce work accidents and occupational diseases and improve working conditions worldwide.

Relationship between work–life balance and well-being

A study carried out jointly by EU-OSHA and Eurofound, the results of which are due to be published in October 2014, confirms the link between good work–life balance and a reduced probability of workers reporting poor health and well-being outcomes.

In France, concerns over the effect of poor work–life balance would appear to be behind a well-being agreement in the engineering sector and among consulting firms. Signed in April 2014, it stipulates that the employee has an ‘obligation to switch off remote communication devices during minimum rest periods of 11 hours per day’.

Quality of work indicators show rise in work pressures

A series of EU surveys have shown that northern European countries enjoy better general quality of work than other parts of Europe. Although this still appears to hold true, reports indicate that working conditions in some regions are deteriorating.

The Netherlands Working Conditions Survey 2013  published in May 2014 finds that while the quality of work remains relatively stable, job insecurity is rising and autonomy at work is clearly decreasing. This is particularly the case for people who have worked for an employer for fewer than three years and in sectors such as hotels, restaurants and catering (horeca), health, transport, trade, agriculture and manufacturing. 

In Germany, the latest edition of the Decent Work Index (in German) was published in April 2014. It showed that 37% of employees felt work intensity had risen to a high or very high level over the previous year.

Meanwhile, the Swedish Work Environment Authority released its annual report on occupational injuries. The report revealed a trend of increasing occupational injuries for the fourth year in a row, up 3% from the previous year.

Patterns of sick leave

The state of people’s health is one obvious factor determining rates of sick leave. However, there is some evidence that socioeconomic context plays a role in absenteeism: relevant factors might include the influence of the economic crisis and employment protection measures.

In Italy, Spain, and the UK, figures show sickness absence has decreased.

It is possible that in Spain the decrease could be related to the economic crisis. According to both trade unions and employers’ representatives, workers are making special efforts not to take time off work because they fear losing their job. At the same time, the labour reform that the Spanish government applied in 2012 has limited the possibilities for absenteeism.

In both Italy and the UK, while short-term sick leave has decreased, long-term sickness leave has increased. In the UK, there is evidence that musculoskeletal disorders and mental health problems are a major factor in long-term sick leave.

Recent studies suggest that in the UK and in Norway social protection levels – for example, the provision of generous sick pay – are linked to higher levels of sickness absence.

In two central-eastern European countries, Poland and the Czech Republic, overall sickness absence is increasing.

Tackling violence and harassment at work

The general interest in tackling psychosocial risks among stakeholders appears to be growing, as shown in the first quarter update on health and well-being, which reported on activity in France, Germany and Sweden. In Belgium, laws introduced to limit psychosocial risks in the workplace came into effect on 1 September 2014. These new regulations update laws implemented in 1996 and 2007, introducing the concept of the ‘psychosocial risks’ surrounding violence and harassment at work. The role of stakeholders in preventing violence and harassment has been clarified and procedures to deal with such problems modified.

Meanwhile, in Finland the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has published a report on the risk of violence in the workplace. The tripartite research team recommended that employers should be made more aware of the ways in which the threat of violence can be managed. It also suggested employees and occupational health representatives should be more active in discussions around workplace violence.

However, in other parts of Europe interest in this phenomenon is still limited. In Estonia, a study has shown that understanding of violence and harassment in the workplace is low and suggests ways to raise awareness and tackle such problems.

About this article

This article is based mainly on contributions from Eurofound’s network of national correspondents. Further resources on health and well-being can be obtained from Eurofound’s European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS).

For more information, please contact Oscar Vargas: ova@eurofound.europa.eu

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    Health and well-being at work - Q2 2014 (EurWORK topical update)

    This article presents some of the key developments and research findings on health and well-being in workplaces in the EU during the second quarter of 2014. The new strategic framework on health and safety, work–life balance, patterns of sick leave and initiatives to combat violence and harassment are the main focus of the report.

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