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The benefits of OSH: reduced costs for business and better conditions for workers of all ages

The latest findings from a major project on the costs and benefits of occupational safety and health (OSH) show that work-related ill health and injury costs the EU an estimated €476 billion every year. This could be drastically reduced with the right OSH strategies, policies and practices and lead to more sustainable working lives for all.


Findings from the project were presented at the XXI World Congress on Safety and Health at work in Singapore on 3-6 September. They underline how good practice in OSH not only increases the longevity of older workers, but also helps improve the productivity, competitiveness and sustainability of businesses. It also reduces healthcare costs and other societal burdens.

Estimates show that 86% of workplace deaths worldwide stem from work-related illnesses, while in the EU the figure is 98%. Each year, the EU also loses an estimated 7.1 million DALY (disability-adjusted life years) as a result of work-related injury and illness. Given Europe’s ageing population, it’s vital that organisations do more to improve working conditions for all in order to reduce absenteeism and allow workers to remain in work for longer.

The findings presented in Singapore by EU-OSHA are based on data from the International Labour Organization and the governments of Finland and Singapore, among other partners, following a large-scale study on Estimating the cost of work-related accidents and ill-health. A more sophisticated costing model will be developed in the coming years based on national data sources, followed by a seminar for stakeholders to discuss its implications on OSH policy and practice.

Speaking ahead of the World Congress, the Director of EU-OSHA, Dr Christa Sedlatschek, said: ‘Safe and healthy work is a fundamental human right but these new estimates of the costs of poor or non-existent OSH measures show that the economic case for OSH has never been stronger.’

The idea that good OSH pays dividends is not new. In fact studies have shown that for every euro invested in OSH, there is a return of 2.2 euros and that the cost-benefit ratio of improving safety and health is favourable.

This is one reason why EU-OSHA developed a data visualisation tool for researchers and policy makers. They can explore and evaluate EU and global figures on the costs to society of work-related injury and illness, the mortality rate, and the DALY.

Good OSH also improves workers’ productivity, cuts absenteeism, reduces compensation payments and helps businesses meet the requirements of public and private sector contractors. And the benefits don’t stop there. Across Europe schemes have been put in place to reward organisations for having safe and healthy workplaces, including lower insurance premiums; tax breaks; and state subsidies and grants. An added bonus is that older workers will be less likely to retire early when risks are better managed and prevented.

A scheme set up for companies in the German butchery sector reduced their premiums if they promoted safety, for example by buying safety knives or giving safety training to drivers. The scheme resulted in 1 000 fewer accidents per year in the sector, a €40 million reduction in costs and a saving of 4.81 euros for every euro invested.

If your company is also looking to reap the benefits of OSH then EU-OSHA’s Online interactive Risk Assessment (OiRA) tool is a great starting point. To find out more about the costs and benefits of occupational safety and health project visit the EU-OSHA’s dedicated page. You can also follow the Healthy Workplaces for All Ages campaign on FacebookLinkedIn and Twitter, using the hashtag #EUhealthyworkplaces to keep up to date with the latest news and events. Subscribe to our campaign newsletter