Health and Safety and the Changing Structure of Work (EU)

8th US/EU Joint Conference on Occupational Safety and Health
Ft. Worth, TX
September 16-19, 2015


Societal evolutions, technological developments as well as new processes can have an impact on OSH policies and measures and bring new risks, including psychosocial risks.

Societal evolutions can lead to changes in the structure of the workforce, namely the tendency in growing of the ageing workforce due to demographic change and the increasing participation of women in the labour market. Such changes are often reflected in OSH policies and measures.

New products and new processes arise everyday (e.g., nanotechnology, green economy, etc.). New biological risks arise for instance in the biotechnology industry, where those engaged in the development of new products and genetically modified organisms can be exposed to particular risks.

Some human factors can also be identified as new or emerging, like for instance the design of human machine interaction interfaces (e.g., Industry 4.0). Therefore different approaches may be needed regarding the safety of machines.

Some other consequences of the changing structure of work, work time and work process may also contribute to the increase or decrease of psychosocial risks at work. The growth of the services sector, the development of information and communication technologies, the need for new skills and changes in work-life balance, are often considered as correlated with these developments. Psychosocial risks can be linked with work organization, working time arrangements, contractual relations between the employer and worker, social relations, content of the job, the workload and time pressure. They constitute an emerging risk which affects mental and physical health in which gender, amongst other dimensions should be considered as a relevant issue in the analysis of those risks. Changes in the structure of work can also contribute to a decrease in such risks, for example, when more flexibility is given to workers to structure and determine when and where they do their work. On the other side various private factors have an influence on work life and can increase psychosocial risks at work.

For the individual, the negative effects of poorly managed psychosocial risks can be poor mental health, mental and physical diseases, lack of income and a reduced quality of life. For businesses, the negative effects include overall poor business performance, increased absenteeism and increased accident and injury rates. For society as a whole, the negative effects are increased social spending, increased costs of treatment and a possible lack of workforce. The managing of psychosocial risks is a benefit for all.

This is why psychosocial risks is one of the main areas of focus at EU level in the area of health and safety, but also part of broader discussions on work organization. In this perspective, an exchange of information concerning the roles both of Labour Inspectorates and social partners is of interest.

A pan-European opinion poll (2013) revealed that 72% of workers felt that job reorganization or job insecurity was one of the most common causes of work-related stress, 66% attributed stress to "hours worked or workload" and 59% attributed stress to "being subject to unacceptable behaviors such as bullying or harassment."

At the same time, the first EU-OSHA ESENER survey found that over 40% of employers consider psychosocial risks at work more difficult to manage than "traditional" OSH risks (ESENER, 2010). More recently, ESENER-2 revealed that the most frequently reported psychosocial risk factors among European enterprises are 'having to deal with difficult customers, patients, pupils, etc.' (reported by 58%) and time pressure (reported by 43%). Nevertheless, only about one-third of companies surveyed had implemented an action plan to manage work-related stress. The main obstacles were identified as a 'reluctance to talk openly about those issues', 'a lack of awareness' and 'a lack of expertise' (ESENER-2, 2015). It is a costly problem. Studies suggest that work-related stress and psychosocial risks contribute to 50 - 60% of all lost working days. (EU-OSHA, 2014).


Establish common understanding of potential OSH impacts of the changing structure of work due to societal evolutions, technological developments, and new processes.

Establish common understanding of work-related psychosocial risks.

Develop preventive actions, in order to improve collective and individual working life and environment, taking into account employers/companies' needs.


Definitions based on tripartite understandings.

The European social partners Framework Agreement on Work-related Stress defines it as "a state which is accompanied by physical, psychosocial or social complaints or dysfunctions and which results from individuals feeling unable to bridge a gap with the requirements or expectations placed on them" and "stress is not a disease but prolonged exposure to it may reduce effectiveness at work and may cause ill-health"

The world’s largest OSH campaign dedicated to work related psychosocial risks in Europe "Healthy workplaces manage stress" by EU-OSHA (2014-15). Healthy Workplaces Good Practice Awards (EU-OSHA, 2015) were given to 11 companies which demonstrated preventative and participative management of psychosocial risks. This included Hotel Colon, S.A. in Barcelona with less than 100 workers. Action was taken including both management and staff representatives to reorganise the work organisation, by implementing the COPSOQ ISTAS21 method and evaluation.

It is important to provide national examples of tripartite agreements and innovative actions. Examples (potentially to be presented during the conference):

The agreement foresees a tripartite collaboration between social partners, the Danish Working Environment Authority (DWEA) and the National Research Centre for Working Environment (NRCWE). The DWEA developed a methodology in collaboration with the social partners to help enterprises to identify and manage psychosocial risks at work. A special focus is put on organisational change, as well as employing people with mental illness and supporting existing employees with mental illness to stay in work (Lidsmoes, 2013a).

Subcontracting is a common phenomenon in Europe which can raise particular health and safety issues in terms of the interaction between subcontractors and the main enterprise, when they are operating on the same worksite. Measures aiming at effective collaboration and cooperative practices are important in this area to ensure workers’ health and safety protection across the whole worksite. For such measures to work, high levels of mutual collaboration, trust, good working relationships and shared goals are needed. Some specific examples could be discussed in this area (see examples discussed in ACSH working party on subcontracting).

  1. Which societal evolutions, technological developments and new processes can be identified as important game changers for the structure of work and future discussions on OSH?
  2. What are the work-related psychosocial risks?
    • Example in Denmark and other national ways of regulating/dealing with psychosocial risks in different EU countries (with the examples of Belgium, Sweden, France, Spain, Italy, etc…)
    • Results from ESENER and other sources on the scale of the problems.
  3. Better communication
    • The campaign particularly highlights the importance of worker participation and management involvement, and both groups working together. It was an important criterion in the Good Practice Awards (GPA).
    • Another relevant example of a company awarded in the Good Practice Awards could be Nottingham City Homes (EU-OSHA, 2015).
    • The EU-OSHA campaign 2016 - 2017 'Healthy workplaces for all ages' will focus on how OSH can contribute to sustainable work throughout working life. As the workforce in the developed industrialized countries is ageing and many countries are increasing the official retirement age, many workers are likely to face longer working lives. Measures to ensure safe and healthy working conditions throughout the whole working life are crucial to ensure workers retain their capacity to work. A recent EU-OSHA pan-European opinion poll (2012) shows that there is a broad consensus among EU-citizens (87%) that good OSH practices are important to help people work longer before they retire.
  4. What can be done at the national level with the involvement of the social partners?
    • How to manage psychosocial risks. A recent example has been done in Denmark by which the parties agree to focus on the following working environment problems as part of the 2020 working environment efforts: accidents at work, psychosocial risks and musculoskeletal disorders. Concerning psychosocial risks, the parties agreed that inspections will focus strongly on the psychosocial work environment.
    • Add other examples, e.g. new approaches to the design of interfaces for human machine interaction; joint approaches to active ageing at the workplace.
  5. How to deal with health and safety risks which may arise when subcontractors operate on the same site as the main enterprise?


All the stakeholders agree that the changes of work structure can lead to new forms of work and may include new and emerging risks and lead to increasing or decreasing psychosocial risks at work. This has resulted in new challenges for the employers, employees, regulators, occupational physicians and labour inspectorates. An exchange of experience between the US and EU stakeholders could be useful to identify the common challenges and the way to realise new improvements as the way to address those topics.


EU-OSHA (2015) The Healthy Workplaces Good Practice Awards 2014-2015. Manage stress. Report.

EU-OSHA (2014) Healthy Workplaces Manage Stress. Campaign Guide.

EU-OSHA (2014) Second European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging (Risks (ESENER-2).

EU-OSHA (2010) European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER).

Agreement between the Danish government (Denmark's Liberal Party and the Conservative People's Party), the Social Democratic Party, the Danish People's Party and the Social Liberal Party (2011) A strategy for working environment efforts up to 2020

Implementation report on the European Social Partners Framework Agreement on work-related stress -

Implementtion report on the European Social Partners Framework Agreement on harassment and violence at the workplace -