79% of European managers are concerned by work-related stress, but less than a third of companies have set procedures to deal with it

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Concern about psychosocial risks such as stress, violence and harassment is increasing in European organisations, the first findings of the biggest workplace health and safety survey in Europe show. The new data was released on 3 June 2010 by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) at the mid-term review conference of the Community Strategy for Health and Safety at Work (2007 - 2012).

Psychosocial risks concern most European companies

Four out of five European managers express their concerns about work-related stress, the ‘European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks’ (ESENER) reveals, making stress at work as important as workplace accidents for companies (79%). Work-related stress is very acute in health and social work (91% of companies regard it as of some or major concern) and in education (84%).

“With the financial crisis in full swing, 79% of European managers voice their concern about stress at work, which is already recognised as an important burden on European productivity”, said EU-OSHA Director Jukka Takala at the conference in Barcelona. “But despite the high levels of concern, it is clearly worrying that only 26% of EU organisations have procedures in place to deal with stress. The ESENER survey highlights the importance of providing effective support for enterprises to tackle stress, which will be crucial in ensuring we have the healthy productive workforce needed to boost European economic performance and competitiveness”.

The survey also shows that 42% of management representatives consider it more difficult to tackle psychosocial risks, compared with other safety and health issues. The sensitivity of the issue (53%) and lack of awareness (50%) are the main barriers for dealing effectively with psychosocial issues, according the findings.

Workers’ involvement is a key factor in health and safety management

ESENER shows that workplaces with employee participation are much more likely to see successful health and safety measures implemented. This is particularly the case for smaller workplaces where it is an important trigger for effective management of psychosocial risks.

In fact, 84% of companies with formal on-site employee representation have an occupational safety and health (OSH) policy or action plan, compared to only 71% of companies without formal representation. Measures to deal with psychosocial risks such as violence, stress and bullying are applied about twice as frequently by enterprises consulting their employees than by those designing their measures without the participation of employees.

Small size need not be an obstacle to effective risk management

ESENER found that the main barriers for dealing with health and safety issues are lack of resources (36%) such as time, staff or money and lack of awareness (26%).

Survey evidence also shows that even smaller companies are able to carry out in-house risk assessment, but need support in the form of expertise, guidance and tools to manage their risk management process effectively and to design and implement successful preventive measures.

Through its campaign and information services EU-OSHA is working to raise awareness on workplace hazards and promote comprehensive and integrated risk management. EU-OSHA makes available a number of products to make this process easier, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). A new ‘Risk Assessment Tools Database’ brings together checklists, handbooks, brochures, questionnaires and interactive tools from across

Europe, and is freely available from the website. An ‘Online interactive Risk Assessment tool’ (OiRA) is currently being developed and should encourage and help many thousands of European SMEs across all sectors to carry out risk assessments.

In the context of the Community Strategy for Health and Safety at Work (2007-12), it is important to know how workplace risks can be successfully managed and what the obstacles can be to achieving this, so that future OSH strategies can be better planned and supporting measures are tailored to companies’ needs. The ESENER survey is a unique pan-European indicator of OSH performance that should assist policy-makers evaluate the progress and implementation of the Strategy.

The full ESENER report and a summary in 22 languages are available from our website. View the results online with the interactive mapping tool at www.esener.eu.

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