Welcoming Remarks

Willy Imbrechts - Belgian EU Presidency
Willy Imbrechts

It is great honour and also a great pleasure for me to address myself to such an exquisite audience.

During the second half of 2010 my country, Belgium, has the Presidency of the European Union and we are very happy to take part at the process of exchange of knowledge concerning safety and health matters through these Joint Conferences on this issue. Conferences at high level and in a tripartite environment. Especially this tripartite approach is a very important element, a key element I should say, for improving working conditions regarding OSH.

Mrs Joelle Milquet, Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Employment and her staff members have shown great interest in the programme of this Conference and they are looking forward to be informed about our finding. Perhaps they might be taken on board during our Presidency.

But first of all before going more into detail in the program, I would like to congratulate our American colleagues for having chosen such a beautiful location for this event. I am sure that it will inspire all of us to do a great job and to come up at the end of the Conference with some solid proposals and solutions in order to improve the working conditions of the employees in the US as well as in the EU. This is also good for business.

The topics of this Conference are perfect in line with the Community strategy 2007-2012. In order to achieve the ambitious goal of the strategy a lot of instruments are proposed:

  • the development and implementation of national strategies
  • encourage changes in the behaviour of workers and encourage their employers to adopt health-focused approaches
  • finalize the methods for identifying and evaluating new potential risks

The national strategies must therefore give priority to implementing a package of instruments which guarantee a high level of compliance with the legislation, in particular in SMEs and high-risk sectors:

  • development of simple tools to facilitate risk assessment;
  • distribution of information and guidelines written in simple language which is easy to understand and which are easy to put into practice;
  • better dissemination of information and better access to counselling services;
  • access to external prevention services which are of a high quality and affordable;
  • use of economic incentives at Community level (e.g. via the Structural Funds) and at national level for micro-enterprises and SMEs.

The European Agency for Safety and Health together with his focal point network in every Member State plays an important role in promoting safety and health by running two-year campaigns.

I want to highlight briefly two campaigns.

The first one deals with Risk Assessment and was organised in 2008-2009. The overall aim of the campaign was to promote an integrated management approach that takes into account the different steps of risk assessment. The two-year risk assessment campaign was seeking:

  • to convey clearly that risk assessment is a systematic examination of all aspects of the work undertaken
  • to consider what can cause injury or harm,
  • whether the hazards can be eliminated and, if not,
  • what preventive or protective measures are, or should be, in place to control the risks.

The campaign helped to demystify the risk assessment process; risk assessment is not necessarily complicated, bureaucratic or a task only for experts.

It also promoted the idea of a participatory approach to risk assessment. It is essential for the workforce to be consulted and involved in the risk assessment to ensure that hazards are identified not only from principles of knowledge but also by knowledge of working conditions and patterns of adverse effects upon workers. As an example of such a tool, I am proud to refer to the SOBANE strategy, a Belgian tool developed by the Catholic University of Louvain together with some preventive services.

Risk assessment with its component of worker involvement is one of the key elements in building a sustainable prevention culture. By providing clear and simple guidance, the Agency tried to empower all employers to carry out an effective risk assessment, and to take appropriate action to eliminate or control risks. The OIRA ( on line risk assessment tool) has been elaborated for that purpose. The second campaign I want to present is the 2010-2011 Safe Maintenance campaign. The main objectives of this campaign are to:

  • Raise awareness of the importance of maintenance for workers' safety and health, of the risks associated with maintenance, and of the need to carry it out safely;
  • Raise awareness of employers' legal and other responsibilities to carry out safe maintenance, and of the business case for doing so;
  • Promote a simple, structured approach to OSH management in maintenance, based on an appropriate risk assessment (the ‘five basic rules').

Such a campaign is clearly justified by bearing in mind some major accidents and incidents, in the past and very recently, and for which the causes for these awfull events are strictly related to poor maintenance.

The ultimate aim, of course, is to help to reduce the number of people who are being hurt or are experiencing ill health as a result of inadequate maintenance or lack of maintenance, now and in the future.

The five basic rules for safe maintenance are:

  • Planning;
  • Making the work area safe;
  • Using appropriate equipment;
  • Working as planned;
  • Making final checks.

During this campaign we want to promote these five basic rules at a large scale even outside "the work environment" because they are also very usefull to apply at home during domestic task related to maintenance. You may call it "mainstreaming of OSH in our daily life.

During our Presidency we will organize a week for the promotion of safety and health at work. During this week a lot of events will take place.

I like to pay your attention on two important meetings during this week:

  • a forum with the commission: Changing work and Mental Health
  • a conference with the Bilbao Agency : Maintenance, do it safe

The past decade psychosocial aspects became a great issue in our EU workplaces. European social partners have signed an agreement on work related stress a few years ago. The implementation of this agreement will be on top of the agenda of the Forum organised with the Commission from the 22nd tot the 24th November 2010 in Brussels.

Also an important study of the Bilbao Agency, the ESSENER survey, is on the agenda. The past two years we also have noticed that sometimes restructuring of companies may lead in some cases to dramatic consequences for the mental health of workers.

Initiatives taken on Member State level will be taken on board in 4 workshops:

  • how can OSH services be adapted to enhance performance
  • health and adaptation to change ‘pioneer activities'
  • guidelines and toolkits on restructuring and impacts on health
  • psychosocil impact of adaptation to change

On the 25th November a conference with the Bilbao Agency will be organised under the title Maintenance, do it safe. Three workshops are scheduled:

  • maintenance and design
  • maintenance and exposure to chemical agents
  • maintenance and contracting

Just two things to conclude my speech:

First: Allthough I refered at a few occasion to Belgium, you have to bear in mind that I have spoken on behalf of the 27 Member States of the EU.

And finaly: I hope but I am also quite convinced that the exchange experience, knowledge and good practices existing on both sides of the Atlantic during this Conference have the potential to come to better kjobs, to better working conditions, to safer and healthier jobs and that all of these improvements are also good for business.