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The conference held in Rome on 4-5 December by the INAIL and the Italian Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, within the framework of the Italian presidency of the EU, concerned a theme that has been recurrent recently: how to combine growth and corporate competitiveness at a time of crisis while promoting occupational safety and health.
Several speakers gave a reminder that occupational risk prevention could (should?) effectively constitute a factor of competitiveness (less absenteeism, a reduction in OSH insurance premiums, greater employee motivation, etc.) and that it was “profitable”. This word has been repeated frequently since 2008 and the economic crisis. Estimates give a potential return of €2.20 for each euro invested in risk prevention, per employee per year. According to the Italian Minister of Labour, Giuliano Poletti, the crisis is no excuse not to invest in risk prevention and “occupational safety and health is not a cost if it is well managed”.
It is nevertheless a fact that SMEs, which account for more than 95% of European companies, do not always have the resources (financial and human resources, information and understanding of the legislation, etc.) to implement prevention measures.
In this context, the simplification of Community legislation was suggested. The UEAPME representative, François Engels, took the example of the electromagnetic fields directive in which “SMEs don’t understand anything”; therefore they cannot apply it correctly. One of the conclusions of a workshop on effective ways of promoting OSH was “less is better”. However, one should be careful not to exempt SMEs from certain rules, first given their quantity, but also because of the diversity of their fields of activity, said Heidi Ronne Moller, a member of the Stoiber group which worked on reducing administrative burdens. And he concluded by asking: “What is a burden? Everything can be a burden!” According to Geoffrey Podger, former Managing Director of the British Health and Safety Executive, one should also not overlook the fact that many SMEs perform hazardous activities. “For whom? and Why these regulations? are the right questions to ask”.
With regard to regulations, Armindo Silva of the DG Employment in the European Commission gave a reminder that an evaluation of the 24 occupational safety and health directives was in progress. The result is expected at the end of 2015. It will make it possible to correct or not the criticism brought against the European Commission “of not enacting new legislation”. The allusion was especially valid for an “MSD” directive demanded by the ETUI. The latter, in the person of Laurent Vogel, expressed its concern at this process of revision of the European regulations, emphasizing that if the regulations are complex, this is above all because occupational health issues are complex. The desire for simplification should therefore not cause certain important issues to be overlooked.
Note that there was much discussion of OIRA, a software program providing support for risk assessment intended for use by SMEs. Several speakers praised this tool for its ease of use and the fact that it is free. This tool has been “sold” as such by EU-OSHA, which has rolled out the project in response to the problems faced in ensuring that the obligation of risk assessment is complied with in SMEs. At present more than fifteen Member States use this tool and have developed more than 60 sector-based applications in it. In France, the INRS has developed applications for road transport and restaurants and catering.