Mainstreaming OSH into education

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Carsten Brück, Kooperationsstelle Hamburg IFE GmbH, Germany


Mainstreaming OSH into education concerns integratingone policy area – OSH – into another – education. The purpose is to ensure that pupils and students receive risk education and OSH education as part of their general education before they start work and that this is done in a systematic way. This is in order to make young workers more aware of risks and how to prevent them, to help reduce accidents to young workers and improve workplace safety culture. The main reason for initiating the actions can be seen in the fact that young workers have a higher risk of getting involved in a work accident. In this context promoting a prevention culture and general risk awareness have been identified as key factors for reducing the number of work accidents.

Need for action

According to the European Statistics on Accidents at Work (ESAW), young workers up to the age of 24 have an elevated risk of having a workplace accidents with more than 3 days. The standardised incident rate for young workers is about the factor 1.3 to 1.4 higher than for the average worker [1]: While the average accident rate per 100,000 workers in the EU27 was 1,820 in 2011, it was 2,440 for workers between 18 and 24.

There are several reasons which lead to the elevated figures and the higher accident risk. Firstly of all being new on the job always means a higher risk of being hurt at work just because workers are less trained and less experienced. This especially applies to young workers who are on their first job [2]. Secondly, young workers may lack acknowledgement by their senior colleagues which may result in not fighting for their interest or in being misguided by bad examples. This is why they need confidence and empowerment in order to be safe and not sorry [3]. Thirdly, young workers can more frequently be found in risky jobs which can be seen by the fact that they work more often in so-called high risk sectors [4] or that they get the physically demanding tasks [5].

The mainstreaming OSH into education approach aims at integrating OSH training, OSH management, safety education and safety and health awareness into education as early as possible. The idea is to mainstream a culture of prevention even before young people become young workers. It is argued that if health and safety is mainstreamed in the curricula from an early age, young people will be more likely be aware of risks at work and more likely change their attitude [6].

Background and framework

Idea and context of mainstreaming OSH into education

"Figure 1"
Figure1: Mainstreaming OSH as an integrated educational approach[7]

The idea mainly originated from the health promoting schools initiative which was promoted by the WHO in the 1980s already [8]. It is carried by the idea of creating a safety culture and it also relates to further policy approaches that aim at contributing to the same objective, such as:

  • The general idea follows the approach of health promotion as it is laid down in the Bangkok Charter of the World Health Organisation (WHO) which is defined as "the process of enabling people to increase control over their health and its determinants, and thereby improve their health";[9]
  • It can also set into relation to the approach of integrating health in all policies (HIAP) – an initiative which launched on European level by the Finnish EU-Presidency in 2006;[10]
  • It also contributes to the idea of a lifelong health and safety education as a part of the lifelong learning programme.[11]

Mainstreaming OSH into education can be described as an integrated educational approach which lays in the intersection of health promotion, risk education and the safety of the learning and working environment. It does not refer to education of a certain level but it can be integrated into pre-school, primary, secondary and tertiary education.

EU policy and activities on occupational safety and health in education and training

Mainstreaming OSH into education first appeared in the European Community OSH 2002-2006 strategy, where pre-work education on safety and health was included in the general strategic approach. The policy makers were convinced that it would be too late to start with safety education when entering work. The strategy called for the development of a prevention culture at the workplace by means of education and training, the safety awareness must be introduced already in the school curriculum.[12] After the five year period the goal was also included in the follow-up 2007-2012 strategy.[13]

In November 2002 the Ministers of the EU Member States for Vocational Education and Training and the European Commission met in Copenhagen and urged the need for further cooperation and for measures in vocational education which help to develop safety and health competences in a joint declaration (Copenhagen Declaration).[14]

In 2003, under the Italian EU-presidency the so-called Rome declaration on mainstreaming OSH into education was issued. The declaration which was prepared by health and safety experts and called upon the EU policy makers to take action to [15]

  • implement the European Employment guidelines and to ensure that education and training in safety and health were recognised as a contribution for making workplaces safer and healthier and for improving the quality of work;
  • define quantified and qualified goals for training and education that could be part of the Employment guidelines and that safety and health education could become integral part of lifelong learning;
  • develop an action plan on mainstreaming OSH into education at European level;
  • support European networking and campaigning activities.

The European strategy 2002-6 was supported by various publications issued by the European Agency on Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA), including those published as part of the 2006 European Campaign ‘Safe start’ on the health and safety of young workers.[16] In 2004 a meeting of experts facilitated by EU-OSHA also proposed a road map on further action 2004-2006, which included measures to be taken and a list of cooperation partners.[17] Subsequently, further reports were published and the issue presented on various workshops in close cooperation with further partners (e.g. ENETOSH, see below).

EU Policies on education

Education does not belong to the catalogue of EU legislative competences. Hence the EU legislator cannot take own legislative action or implement a common policy on education. However, much happened based on the open coordination and voluntary co-operation of the Governments of the EU Member States.[18]

The European Council approved shared objectives and a common work programme in the context of the Lisbon Strategy, called ‘Education and Training 2010’. This work programme contributed to the Strategy’s goal of improving the quality of work (‘good work’) and initiated a process of change which was driven by the voluntary co-operation and carried out on national level respecting the educational traditions of the EU Member States.[7] The activities lead to a better convergence of learning objectives and certain core subjects between the participating countries. As a result steps were taken to integrate issues of risk education and safety and health at work in science classes, physical and health education. Risk, safety and health education were no longer treated as stand-alone issues but on the way of being incorporated in the school curricula.[19]

European Network Education and Training on OSH (ENETOSH)

In 2005 the ENETOSH network was set up as Leonardo da Vinci project with 13 partners from 10 countries. Since then network constantly grew and counts today 59 partners from 26 countries worldwide. It is coordinated by the German Accident Insurance DGUV; in its advisory board social partners and experts from OSH and educational institutions are represented. The network describes its mission as:

  • Assuring the quality of education and training on occupational safety and health in Europe;
  • Mainstreaming of health and safety into the education system, following high-quality standards;
  • Active knowledge-sharing between the OSH sphere and education experts.

The network organises workshops and international events to share the knowledge, runs a database which contains 600 good practice examples and a toolbox and has developed the a ‘Standard of Competence’ on the quality of instructors, trainers and management representatives on occupational safety.[20]

International activities

Further stakeholders also took the initiative to promote mainstreaming OSH into education. In 2003, the International Social Security Association (ISSA) founded the section on ‘Education and Training for Prevention’ as part of its prevention activities on occupational risks. The ISSA Section focuses on formulating the key points for developing a culture of prevention, which aims at the whole school approach.

The “Berlin Declaration for the Development of a Culture of Prevention in health and safety: From School to Work" (September 2006) takes into account children and young people in education or vocational training and young professionals as important target groups.[21] Under the same heading, the 4th International Seminar of the section adopted the Lisbon Charter on Education and Training in Prevention in 2009. The Charter acknowledges the importance of health and safety education in order to prevent young people from elevated risks at work and to consequently remove this source of inequality between generations and urges the promotion of a culture of prevention.[22]

Sources of information

A lot of information and good practice examples can be found in the publications and the database of EU-OSHA.[23] Also the ENETOSH website contains a good practice data. In addition it has a so-called tool box[24] which is in fact an archive for instruments, methods, media and information for teachers and managers of all kind of schools. ENETOSH also provides a list of criteria for good practice criteria when mainstreaming OSH.[25]

The model of mainstreaming OSH into education

"Figure 2"
Figure 2: Model of mainstreaming OSH into education[17]

EU-OSHA proposes a two layer model to describe the Mainstreaming OSH into Education approach: The outer layer refers to the policy makers who set the agenda or framework which consists in policies and initiatives on various levels. As presented above, we talk about the European, national, regional and local levels of decision making. Ideally the policies of different levels follow one common goal, interact and support one another and hence ensure the homogenous implementation of the mainstreaming approach. Mainstreaming OSH into education should be part of the formal school and education curricula as well as part of the life-long learning policies.

The inner layer describes the elements which are needed for implementing policies and for successfully mainstreaming OSH into education in practice and reflects on the action to be taken:[17]

  • What is the state of the art? Starting with an inventory of what has already been done and what should been done, taking into account the new framework and the state of the art research and good practice.
  • Who should be included and in how far? Inclusion of all relevant stakeholders like students and their parents, teachers and school management, school administration, employers and job agencies, educators, OSH and health experts should be considered and participation and communication ensured;
  • Which are the areas of action? Various fields of action can be addressed when mainstreaming OSH into education, in particular creating a safe and healthy learning and working environment (see chapter 4.2), qualifying teachers, employers or other multipliers (“train the trainer”, see chapter 4.3), deciding on the new content for safety and health education and drafting new age-adequate material and educational methods to get the message across (“mainstreaming OSH into the school curriculum”, see chapter 4.1);
  • Were the measures successful? Regular assessment and evaluation phases help to ensure the success of measures and to start an ongoing process of improvement.

The process of mainstreaming OSH into education is described by EU-OSHA as a six step open loop model.[26] It can be seen as an open loop which aims at continuous improvement by regular self-evaluation of the measures and can be compared to the models used for risk assessment and OSH management process descriptions.

Approaches of mainstreaming OSH into education

Integrate OSH in the curriculum

To integrate OSH as compulsory issue in the general curriculum is the responsibility of the national educational authorities. In general it is considered to be advantageous to have safety and health as a cross-curricular subject as a part of the lifelong learning strategy in order to sustainably influence key competences and attitudes. In addition an experienced based learning and a dialogue between teacher and student is desirable.[7]

But even when safety and health are not part of the general curriculum, the single pre-school, school or university can still decide on integrating parts on where it concerns, e.g. modules on safety in physical education, safe handling of dangerous substances, safety in handicrafts or engineering lessons or general issues such as safe manual handling or workplace ergonomics. Again such modules should be compulsory for all pupils and students in order to address all of them.[27]

OSH in the curriculum should take account of attitudes and values as well as on skills and competences of the students. Hazard and risk awareness and how to avoid their realisation by organising the environment and by behavioural pattern should be part of the safety and health education. The training should also include the legal prescriptions, sources of information and general concepts and terminology of safety and health.[7]

Create a safe and healthy school environment

Creating a safe working and learning environment should be one part of the mainstreaming project. Learning from good practice is essential. Vice versa, safety and health education lacks credibility when it is done in an environment that demonstrates the opposite while a safe and healthy school environment underlines that health and safety is taken seriously by the stakeholders.[7]

As a first step towards a safe and healthy school environment, the safety and health regulations should be respected - at school the same legislation has to be respected as in any other establishment. This is the particular responsibility of the school management and should be taken serious by the school administration, the head of school and teachers with special responsibilities (e.g. teachers who act as OSH representatives). Clarify responsibilities and management processes, carry out risk assessments. An OSH management system that includes the teaching personnel as well as the students can support the processes.

As a second step health promotion measures can be introduced, that cover the teachers as well as the students, as the approaches are complementary and closely related to each other.[7]

Train the trainer

Train the trainer (resp. the teacher) is considered to be a crucial part within the safety and health education. The teachers and trainers have a key position in the whole process as they are the main multipliers. They need to get the message across and be role models for the students. Safety culture does not only rely on education and skills but also heavily on values and attitudes. In order to positively influence the attitudes of the youngsters it is important to address the teachers first.

The training should be embedded in the general context of health and safety. It should also demonstrate practical relevance by taking account of day-to-day situation in the educational context, e.g. chemistry lessons or physical education. As already mentioned it was proven to be advantageous to include OSH and educational experts in teachers’ training and to get the commitment of the authorities and stakeholders. The training should be certified.

Teachers’ training should fit in the teacher’s annual work plan. Experiences show that the time-off problem is an obstacle that can be more easily overcome by summer courses or distance learning (e.g. e-learning) modules. However self-reflecting or experiential learning methods are proven to be very effective to get the message across, hence many projects are based on a distance learning which is part of a blended learning approach.[28]

Involvement and empowerment of the students

Involvement of the workers is not only required by European and national legislation, it is also considered as being beneficial for the OSH performance. Involvement of young workers is also seen as best practice which helps them to develop the confidence to challenge more experienced colleagues and management representatives (“empowerment”). It is recommended to establish a two-way dialogue which ensures the young workers can address their issues and provides them with the feedback. The so established dialogue shows them that they are taken serious.[3]

As the empowerment and the activation of the students and the young workers are core ideas of mainstreaming OSH into education, communication between management, teachers and students should be part of every mainstreaming project. Students should not passively learn about safety and health, they should be motivated to live it and to actively bring in their ideas and perception.

The whole school approach

The whole-school approach is considered as the ‘Gold standard’ of mainstreaming OSH into education measures. It is a holistic approach that includes all the different fields of actions of which mainstreaming actions can consist of: including OSH into school curricula, training of students, teachers and school management representatives, introducing risk management at school level, and active participation of the students in the risk management.[29]

The whole school approach will be more closely presented in the article "A whole-school approach to OSH education".

Recommendations for mainstreaming OSH into education measures

General note

As already mentioned mainstreaming OSH into education does not refer to a single approach of getting to message across but refers to a bundle of measures that should ideally not be stand alone as they closely relate to one another. The measures can be integrated step wise into the educational framework and take account of the pre-existing level of safety culture in the establishment.

As a general advice all relevant stakeholders, especially management representatives and later multipliers, should be timely addressed when mainstreaming OSH into education. As educational as well as safety and health experience is needed it is crucial to establish a network where both sides are represented and can share knowledge.[7]

It is certainly helpful when national, regional or local authorities back the mainstreaming OSH into education approach by setting the political agenda, supporting the network building and providing funding. Legislation is considered as a strong incentive. However, if such support is not available it is important to be realistic and it is still better taking a stepwise, small scale good practice approach than not doing anything. Some activities and measures can be easily initiated by the management representatives of one establishment.

Key success factors

There are some prerequisites for successful realisation and implementation of mainstreaming OSH projects in practice:[17]

  • Identify the scope of the action: What should be the scope of the activity and who is the target group? Where are obstacles and how is the legislative framework?
  • Identify the stakeholders: Who are possible collaborators and stakeholders and who can help the initiative or the action being successful? Who do I need to address to make the action successful, e.g. students and their parents, teachers and school management, school administration, employers and job agencies, educators, OSH and health experts?
  • Identify further sources of support: Where is supply in terms of funding sources, policies, campaigns and consultancy?
  • The action should be evidence based and age adequate: Depending on the scope of the action and the target group, one should consider the state of the art of what could be done as well as an inventory on what has been done already. This can include collecting data on accidents of young people, assessing the working and learning conditions, making an inventory on existing safety lessons and teaching material and collecting information on best practice cases.
  • Activate the youngsters: Empowerment and the activation of the students and the young workers are core ideas of mainstreaming OSH into education. They should be motivated to live it and to actively bring in their ideas and perception.
  • Take account of time constraints: School curriculum already puts pressure on teachers and students. The measures must be adaptable to school routine. This is particularly important when you train the teachers. An e-learning or mixed methods approach can help to improve acceptance and success.
  • Create a common understanding among the partners: As one of the core factors a common understanding of the central concepts among the stakeholders should be realised, like the broad understanding of safety and health as physical, mental and social well-being, the inclusion of safety and health as part of lifelong learning and the close connection between education and workplace.
  • Make a thorough project management: Define goals, work packages and milestones. Monitoring and evaluation helps you to control in how far the goals of the project have been realised and to identify strengths and weaknesses and help you to implement follow-up actions.
  • Full integration of the actions: The mainstreaming process should become part of the general process landscape; the project should create sustainable effects. Follow-up should take account of the evaluation results.


  1. Eurostat (undated), Accidents at work by sex and age, standardised incident rate. Retrieved 13 Feb 2014, from: [1]
  2. EU-OSHA - The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Young worker safety – advice for employers, Facts 61, Luxemburg, Bilbao 2007. Available at: [2]
  3. 3.0 3.1 EU-OSHA - The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Involving young workers in OSH, E-Facts 73, Bilbao 2013. Available at: [3]
  4. EU-OSHA - The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Young workers- facts and figures, Facts 70, Luxemburg, Bilbao 2007. Available at: [4]
  5. Work Safe BC - Workers’ Compensation Board of British Columbia, Young Workers Focus Report, Richmond 2010, p.2. Available at: [5]
  6. Degrand-Guillard, A., ‘Mainstreaming occupational safety and health into education’, Magazine 9 (Safe Start), EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Bilbao 2006, pp.3-5. Available at: [6]
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 EU-OSHA - The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, OSH in the school curriculum, requirements and activities in the EU-Member States, Bilbao, Luxemburg 2009, pp.14-18, 23-25. Available at: [7]
  8. WHO – World Health Organisation (undated), What is a health promoting school? Retrieved 13 Feb 2014, from [8]
  9. WHO – World Health Organisation, The Bangkok Charter for Health Promotion in a Globalized World. Bangkok 2005. Available at: [9]
  10. Wikipedia (2014), Health in all policies. Retrieved 17 Feb. 2014 from [10]
  11. European Commission (2014), Strategic framework for education and training. Retrieved 13 Feb 2014, from: [11]
  12. European Commission, Adapting to change in work and society: A new community strategy on health and safety at work 2002-2006, Brussels, Luxemburg COM(2002) 118 final, pp. 9 and 17. Available at [12]
  13. European Commission, Improving quality and productivity at work: Community strategy 2007-2012 on health and safety at work, Brussels, Luxemburg COM(2007) 62 final. Available at: [13]
  14. European Ministers of Vocational Education and Training and the European Commission, Declaration of the European Ministers of Vocational Education and Training and the European Commission, convened in Copenhagen on 29 and 30 November 2002, on enhanced European cooperation in vocational education and training, “The Copenhagen Declaration”. Available at: [14]
  15. EU-OSHA - European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (undated), The Rome Declaration. Retrieved 12 Feb. 2014, from [15]
  16. EU-OSHA - European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (undated), Priority groups, young people. Retrieved 12 Feb. 2014, from: [16]
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Mainstreaming OSH into education, Bilbao, Luxemburg 2004, pp.118-120, 141. Available at [17]
  18. Wikipedia (2014), Open method of coordination. Retrieved 26 Feb. 2014 from [18]
  19. EU-OSHA - The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, OSH in the school curriculum – Member States activities, Facts 82, Luxemburg, Bilbao 2009. Available at: [19]
  20. ENETOSH – The European Network on Education and Training in Occupational Safety and Health, (self presentation leaflet), Dresden 2012. Available at: [20]
  21. ENETOSH – The European Network on Education and Training in Occupational Safety and Health (undated), Provision of basic material about the Whole School Approach. Retrieved 02 Feb. 2014, from: [21]
  22. ISSA – International Social Security Association, Lisbon Charter on Education and Training in Prevention, Vienna 2009. Available at: [22]
  23. EU-OSHA - European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (undated), Topics, mainstreaming OSH into education. Retrieved 12 Feb. 2014, from: [23]
  24. ENETOSH – The European Network on Education and Training in Occupational Safety and Health (undated), Tool Box, Archive for methods, media and documents. Retrieved 02 Feb. 2014, from: [24]
  25. ENETOSH – The European Network on Education and Training in Occupational Safety and Health (undated), How to prove good practice? Retrieved 02 Feb. 2014 from: [25]
  26. EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Mainstreaming occupational safety and health into education, Facts 52, Bilbao 2004. Available at: [26]
  27. EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Mainstreaming OSH into university education, Bilbao, Luxemburg 2010, p. 148f. Available at [27]
  28. EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Training teachers to deliver risk education, Bilbao, Luxemburg 2011, p.83 f. Available at [28]
  29. EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Occupational safety and health and education: A whole school approach, Bilbao, Luxemburg 2013. Available at: [29]

Links for further reading

Clift S. and Bruun Jensen, B., The Health Promoting School: International Advances in Theory, Evaluation and Practice, Copenhagen 2005. Available at: [30]

ENETOSH – The European Network on Education and Training in Occupational Safety and Health (undated), Website. Retrieved 3 Feb. 2014, from: [31].

European Commission, A new impetus for European youth. White paper, Brussels 2002.

EU-OSHA – The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (undated), Are young workers particularly at risk of accidents at work? (FAQ). Retrieved 3 Feb. 2013 from: [32].

EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Magazine 9, Safe Start, Bilbao 2006. Available at [33]

EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Strategies for training teachers to deliver risk education, Facts 103, Bilbao 2013. Available at: [34]

ISSA – International Social Security Asscociation (undated), International Section on Education and Training for Prevention. Retrieved 23 Feb. 2014, from: [35]

Institute for Work and Health, A systematic review of the effectiveness of training & education for the protection of workers, Toronto 2010. Available online at: [36]

Leppo, K. and Ollila, E, Health in All Policies: Seizing Opportunities, implementing policies, Helsinki 2013.

Volpert, W., Sensumotorisches Lernen, Frankfurt 1971.

WHO – World Health Organisation (undated), School health and youth health promotion. Retrieved 23 Feb. 2014, from: [37]