Working together to prevent risk

Newsletter articles

11 Mar 2015

Employment Studies Issue 21

Andrea Broughton, IES Principal Research Fellow

Andrea BroughtonThe responsibility to manage work-related risks at an early stage lies mainly with employers, but the active involvement of workers is also crucial. Overall, involving workers in the management of occupational health and safety is recognised as a key enabler in terms of identifying and reducing risk: through effectively working together on risk prevention, workers and managers can identify joint solutions and ensure full cooperation for workplace safety, health and wellbeing. It is acknowledged that this can have a real impact on accident and injury rates. Research1 analysing the relationship between worker representation and industrial injuries in UK manufacturing found that employers who had trade union health and safety committees had half the injury rate of those employers who managed safety without unions or joint arrangements.

IES research in the UK

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has devoted considerable resources to promoting worker involvement in health and safety. In 2012, IES undertook a large-scale research project looking at worker involvement in a range of UK workplaces2, following HSEfunded worker involvement training. The research examined in particular its impact on health and safety in organisations over a period of 12 months, finding that there had been a considerable and lasting impact. The types of impacts detected included the development of soft skills such as awareness of health and safety; confidence of health and safety representatives; improved communication; better influencing and negotiating skills; and improvements in relationships and joint working between managers and representatives.

Organisations also reported changes to a wide range of health and safety practices and processes, such as risk assessments, nearmiss recording, use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and identification and elimination of hazards. These impacts continued to be felt after six months, with continuing improvements in both soft skills and processes and procedures and a move towards more formalisation of processes. After 12 months, the changes were becoming more embedded, with lasting improvements to soft skills and the relationship between managers and representatives, with some participants still referring to material from the courses. There was also evidence of a move towards more informality in terms of meetings, as issues were being dealt with promptly as they arose, thus rendering more regular meetings unnecessary. Some organisations spoke of cultural change.

The importance of worker involvement at EU level

At European level, the prevention of risk plays a crucial role in all of the European Union’s health and safety-related activities and projects. According to statistics from Eurostat and the International Labour Organisation, more than 5,500 fatal workrelated accidents take place in the EU each year. A further 159,500 workers die each year from occupational diseases and millions of people are injured or seriously harmed in the workplace3.

Given the importance of risk prevention and worker involvement in health and safety, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) has made this a priority in recent years. EU-OSHA coordinates bi-annual Healthy Workplaces Campaigns (HWCs) and most specifically, its HWC 2012-2013, was entitled ‘Working together for risk prevention’. This is a decentralised campaign, meaning that Member States, partner organisations and individual workplaces have the opportunity to tailor it to their needs. Leadership and worker participation were the key themes of the 2012-13 campaign, which promoted the idea that work-related accidents and illnesses can be better managed when employers, workers and their representatives work together in partnership. The campaign emphasised the importance of leadership from top management as well as workers’ participation in the prevention of occupational accidents and illnesses.

Evaluation of EU-OSHA worker involvement campaign

IES led the ex-post evaluation of this campaign, publishing our findings in late 2014<sup4. The main target audiences of the campaign were employers and employers’ organisations as well as workers, safety and workers’ representatives, and trade unions. While a special emphasis was placed on SMEs and micro-enterprises, intermediaries were another important target audience for campaign activities. These included policymakers at EU and national level, the Agency’s national focal points and their networks, European institutions and their networks and non-governmental organisations. The campaign consisted of a wide range of activities, including formal conferences and seminars, funding to help run events in individual countries, and a partnership scheme whereby organisations could apply to become official campaign partners. It also included a good-practice award scheme, and a range of materials on offer to participating organisations to help them to promote the issue of worker involvement in health and safety.

We found that the campaign had fulfilled its objectives of engaging stakeholders, raising awareness, improving access to information and resources, promoting relevant activities at the workplace and identifying and disseminating good practice in the area of worker involvement in health and safety. One of the single most successful elements of the campaign was a benchmarking initiative, which showcased good practice among campaign partners. One of our key recommendations for the next campaign is that this initiative should be continued and broadened. While it is difficult to measure the impact of the campaign in terms of improvements in health and safety in workplaces around the EU, we did find that it was likely to have raised awareness of the issue of worker involvement in health and safety, reaching many thousands of workplaces during its two years of operation. It is vital to keep raising the profile of worker involvement in health and safety, as great improvements can be made if employers and employees work together to reduce risk, and this campaign did much to further this cause.


  1. Reilly, Pierella P, Holl P (1995) ‘Unions, Safety Committees and Workplace Injuries’, British Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol. 33 No. 2, 275-288.
  2. Broughton A; Wilson S; Newton B (2012), Evaluation of the HSE Worker Involvement Training Courses: Final Report, Health and Safety Executive.
  3. Eurostat (2010), Health and safety at work in Europe (1999-2007) – a statistical portrait, Eurostat.
  4. Broughton A, Ledermaier S, Hinks R (2014) Ex-post evaluation of the Healthy Workplaces Campaign 2012-2013. Working together for risk prevention. EU-OSHA.