50 Years On, EU Safety Agency Sees Progress, Problems

The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work has posted an interesting document summarizing progress since the European Economic Community was created in 1957. Early efforts after World War II reduced deaths in coal mines and steelworks, and the EEC moved on from there. Europe's workplace accident rates of about 20 per 100,000 workers in 1957 have fallen to around 5 per 100,000, said Jukka Takala, the agency's director, but he said there are still too many work-related deaths -- 150,000 per year.

"It is a huge problem," Takala says in the article. "Most people have no idea that so many people die from work accidents and work-related diseases." The article also says there are 4 million accidents at work in Europe annually, and improving workers' safety and health is key to the EU's growth and jobs agenda.

Construction is the sector with the highest accident rate in the 27 Member States, it says. As in the United States, agriculture and manufacturing employ far fewer workers today than they did in 1957; in the United Kingdom, 83 percent of the workforce are employed in the service sector. New challenges identified by Takala in the article are repetitive strain injuries and finding better ways to reliably count work-related deaths in light of long-term problems such as asbestos. "In the future, in broad terms, we will be concentrating on people's long-term health and well-being," Takala says. "We should not only be looking to reduce absence from work due to ill health; we should also be trying to ensure that people's whole working lives from leaving school or university to retirement are safe and healthy. Our aim is for people to retire in as good a condition as they started work."

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