European Agency for Safety and Health at Work

Mainstreaming OSH in university education: challenges and opportunities

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Tomorrow’s architects, engineers, health professionals and business administrators will all need to be aware of occupational safety and health (OSH) and incorporate risk management into their daily working lives, if they are to keep themselves (and those around them) safe while they are at work. But how do we ensure that OSH training is an integral part of university education, rather than something that young people encounter only when they enter the world of employment? A new report looks at the challenges of ‘mainstreaming’ or integrating OSH into university courses, as well as providing examples of imaginative ways in which these challenges can be overcome.

As Jukka Takala, Director of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA), points out, the new report is just the latest in an ongoing EU-OSHA initiative to support the 'mainstreaming' of OSH into education at all levels. ‘Education is key if we are to develop a culture of risk prevention’, he says. ‘But it is not just about teaching children and young adults to live and work safely. If OSH is truly to become an integral part of business management and operations, all future managers and professionals need risk education about their role and responsibilities.’

When it comes to integrating OSH into university education, though, there are a number of particular challenges. There is often a lack of teaching staff who have expertise in OSH, and a lack of OSH teaching materials suitable for university level. There can be a lack of funds for developing OSH education at universities, compared with schools. And university courses can favour theoretical learning methods over practical, active ones.

Nevertheless, as the report makes clear, there are examples from around Europe of OSH successfully being made a part of university education. Factors that help in mainstreaming OSH in universities include:

  • Working in co-operation with receptive individuals and organisations (in Germany, for example, a number of universities work in partnership to pool OSH resources)
  • Embedding OSH education within courses, rather than making it an add-on (examples include the inclusion of OSH elements within engineering courses at the University of Liverpool in the UK), and
  • Involving students in managing health and safety in their learning environment (as at the Dublin Institute of Technology, where the students’ union is involved in helping the university meet its OSH obligations).

The report presents an analysis of all the success factors found in the cases. Ultimately it recommends the development of a ‘whole-university approach’, which combines OSH and risk education with the practical steps that universities take to provide a safe and healthy working environment for its staff and students.

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