EU OSHA Review of Workplace Innovation

2012 – Within the 2012–13 Healthy Workplace Campaign theme of ‘better health and safety at work through prevention’, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) will directly address one of the overarching goals of the Community Strategy, namely the promotion of prevention as the cornerstone of the European approach to achieving better occupational safety and health (OSH). The campaign is being developed around the twin concepts of leadership and worker participation, the implication being that both employers and employees have a role to play in prevention. At the same time, European economies are facing a period of economic crisis and there is a political urgency for continuous innovation and growth in productivity in order to realise sustainable growth and welfare provision within the European Union (EU). To achieve this, it is not sufficient just to introduce new technologies and seek competitive advantage by means of cutting costs. It will require the full utilisation of the potential workforce and creation of flexible work organisations. Recently, a number of European countries (such as Finland, Germany, Ireland, United Kingdom, Belgium and the Netherlands) have started national programmes or initiatives to meet these challenges. These programmes have been launched under the heading of ‘social innovation’ or ‘workplace innovation’.

To provide a background for European policymakers, this state-of-the-art review was commissioned to:

* Provide an overview of the European policy framework conditions regarding the need for workplace innovation, human performance and quality of working life.

* Provide evidence that high levels of occupational safety and health (OSH) performance (low accident rates and absenteeism, OSH culture) correlate with workplace innovation and human performance. The term ‘OSH performance’ in this case is a limited understanding of OSH, which, if related to workplace innovation, can be extended to include well-being (participation and management – labour cooperation, reduction of work-related stress risks, learning opportunities).1

* Develop indicators that could convince enterprises to use workplace innovation strategies (for example, cost–benefit analysis, shareholder value, innovative capacity, motivation of staff).

This review uses the term ‘workplace innovation’ and whilst there is currently no uniform definition of workplace innovation, the definition used in this report is:

*  workplace innovations are strategy induced and participatory adopted changes in an organisation’s practice of managing, organising and deploying human and non-human resources that lead to simultaneously improved organisational performance and improved quality of working life.

Workplace innovation includes aspects of management and leadership, flexible organisation, working smarter, continuous development of skills and competencies, networking between organisations and the modernisation of labour relations and human resource management.

Three dimensions: work organisation, labour relations and network relations were used as a framework to identify national programmes and initiatives whose aim is to promote workplace innovation.

It is clear that there is a need for further research into the effects of workplace innovation programmes and in particular to identify whether workplace innovation can improve OSH performance, in respect of quality of working life and psychosocial well-being. Amongst the suggestions for EU-OSHA is that the organisation should take a lead in determining a uniform definition of workplace innovation and build up and disseminate good examples of the combined effects of OSH policy and workplace innovation. 

Reference: Eekelaert, L., Dhondt, S., Oeij, P., Nicolescu, G.I., Webster, J. (2013) Review of Workplace Innovation and its relation with occupational safety and health. European Agency for Safety and Health at Work – EU-OSHA (see attachement)