Overview of policies, strategies and programmes in relation to the occupational health and safety of older workers - Austria

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Initiatives from government/ government-affiliated organisations

Occupational health and safety

The Austrian Occupational Safety and Health Strategy 2007 – 2012[1] (Austrian OSH Strategy) involves all national and regional actors for health and safety at work and, essentially, those whose interests relate to this topic. The follow-up strategy 2013 – 2020 has not been implemented yet. Five subject areas, covered by specific working groups, have been defined in the Strategy.

  • Risk assessment and hazard awareness
  • Prevention of occupational accidents
  • Prevention of occupational diseases
  • Training and information on OSH (including improving the work of prevention experts)
  • Raising awareness on OSH

A number of targets have been defined (including the reduction of occupational accidents and diseases) and in order to achieve them, the work should focus on, inter alia, demographic change and rehabilitation and reintegration of employees[2].

Gender and diversity mainstreaming in labour inspections[3]

In 2003, the Austrian Labour Inspectorate embarked on a programme to ensure that gender was incorporated in the work of the entire Labour Inspectorate in a systematic and permanent way. In 2007 the gender-mainstreaming scheme was expanded to cover all the areas of diversity in relation to employee protection (including the protection of older workers). This was to ensure fair working conditions and effective OSH for all workers, combined with qualitative improvements in efficiency and sustainability in the advisory and control activity of the Inspectorate.

The Labour Inspectorate ensured that it undertook the following steps:

  • driving forward the implementation process inside (focusing on ensuring that gender mainstreaming and diversity became part of the Labour Inspectorate's culture) and outside (when the Labour Inspectorate is dealing with external companies or working with partners);
  • strengthening the exchange of experience;
  • transferring knowledge on gender mainstreaming and diversity in occupational safety and health and the Austrian Labour Inspectorate;
  • helping to achieve the above by establishing a gender mainstreaming/diversity network (by means of a mailing list, discussion platform in the intranet section, and annual meetings on special topics, such as employees with disabilities and migrants).

It was recognised that, for OSH, the inclusion of gender and diversity aspects, gender/diversity-equitable participation and the questioning of stereotypes at work, are particularly important.

The incorporation of the gender and diversity-perspective into the functioning of the Inspectorate has been done to influence the following factors at the workplace:

  • gender and diversity in risk assessment
  • gender and diversity-equitable development of working conditions
  • agreement of adequate and effective risk prevention and protection measures
  • overcoming role stereotypes in work
  • information and training
  • gender and diversity-equitable personnel selection
  • design of work processes and work equipment
  • preventive care services (safety engineering, occupational hygiene, occupational health)
  • workplace health promotion
  • function appointment (such as first aider and first safety engineer)

The Inspectorate has also developed a webpage specifically related to the natural decline of physical and mental capacity, as part of the campaign of the European Agency for Health and Safety at Work on musculoskeletal disorders “Lighten the load”. The page provides advice on age management at the workplace.

Providing support to companies in the areas of health and work: activities of the Social Security institutions[4]

In 2007, the Ministry for Social Affairs, BMASK, launched an initiative called “Disability in Transition” (Invalidität im Wandel)[5], where an expert working group was created to work on the reform of the disability pension system and reflect on the topics of disability, health and work. Following these discussions, the government, in cooperation with the Austrian social security institutions and representatives from the social partners, decided in 2008 to launch a prevention programme within companies to maintain employability, to reduce the number of invalidity pensions and to foster and preserve work ability. The result of these discussions was the implementation of the Fit for the Future (Fit für die Zukunft) programme for primary prevention (reduction of disability retirement and promotion of work ability). Based on the success of the Fit for the Future programme, the government adopted the Work and Health Law (Arbeits- und Gesundheitsgesetz – see Section 1.3), which came into force in January 2011. The law established the fit2work programme for secondary and tertiary prevention (case-management, rehabilitation and return to work). The fit2work programme is described in Section 3 of the present report.

Between 2008 and 2012, 20 companies participated in the Fit for the Future programme, led by the Austrian Social Insurance for Occupational Risks (AUVA) and the Pension Insurance Organisation (PVA) (see section 1.2), and with a budget of EUR 1.5 Million for 4,5 years. A third of these were SMEs. The first steps of implementation of the programme consisted of a series of workshops, to raise awareness of workplaces to a number of work ability-related concepts. Following the workshops, the counselling stage of the programme was launched, during which one counsellor was allocated to each company participating, with additional support from ergonomics and technical experts and experts from the AUVA (altogether forming a steering group). Counselling took place on a monthly basis and was supported by the use of guiding tools, such as the ABI Plus Index (see below) and by a series of interviews (with relevant parties in the company).

Following the counselling and interview stage, activities were implemented to support sustainable employability, based on a tool box of good practice measures. A total of 300 tailor-made interventions were executed, supported by a number of quick-win actions, such as recreation rooms, ergonomic measures and adjustments of working devices. The measures implemented within the 20 pilot companies and the results from the programme were published in 2012. An evaluation of the programme showed that work ability was related strongly to the following factors: workload, values, capacity to take an active role, health and cooperation. The evaluation showed that the strongest effects of the programme were actually on younger workers (apprentices). Factors that could have helped optimise the effects of the programme include: stronger management involvement, stronger support from the works council (wary of the effects of reducing working time on wages), the need for regular repetition of the project.[6]

Within the programme “Fit for the Future”, the AUVA and the PVA have developed the ABI Plus™ index[7]. ABI Plus™ is based on the workability index (WAI), developed by Professor Ilmarinen from Finland, and measures the status of work load management according to the resources of the employees within a company. The ABI Plus™ index has the advantage of taking into account factors such as senses – usually hard to measure – when looking at work tasks, competences and work-life balance. It allows a company to find out in which fields they could invest (fostering health, ergonomics, training, etc.)

The AUVA has also developed the AUVAfit programme[8], with an interdisciplinary team, which aims to reduce physical and mental strain at work. The first step is an assessment of the work load. On this basis, the external consultants work on focused measures for improving working conditions. In every phase of the process, the AUVA assists with psychological and ergonomic consulting. It had its first pilot phase in 2007 in several sectors with 20 participating companies.

Workplace Health Promotion and age management

An Austrian report shows that the costs for illnesses are up to EUR 6.7 billion and most of them concern musculoskeletal disorders, respiratory problems and a rise in mental illnesses. The objective of the network BGF “Betriebliche Gesundheitsförderung” (Workplace Health Promotion), funded by the National Fund for a Healthy Austria (Projektförderung des Fonds Gesundes Österreich – FGÖ), is to promote and maintain healthy lifestyles ain the companies implementing the project[9]. This should be achieved through three pillars: exercise, nutrition and relaxation. These three elements should help employees modify their working habits to achieve a more sustainable working life (stress reduction, ergonomics training, time management). Those measures also support older workers, as their needs are addressed by participating in the project, e.g. through healthy nutrition or through supporting measures that reduce back-pain when having to work in front of the computer or in production facilities. So far, the projects have helped achieve a 25% reduction in illnesses and the return on investment (ROI) lies between 1:2.5 and 1:10.1. The BGF network is the Austrian partner of the European Network for Workplace Health Promotion (ENWHP).

The seal of quality NESTOR GOLD is a certification and a standard of good practice for age(ing) and generation sensitive labour organisation in Austrian companies and organisations, and thus a practical guideline for managers, executives and employees as a tool for internal location and implementation of measures. Against the background of the upcoming demographic challenge, the seal of quality has been created by the Federal Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection in cooperation with the social partner organisations, the Federal Ministry of Economy, Family and Youth, the Public Employment Service AMS as well as proven experts on age(ing) management. Since the year 2010, the seal of quality is awarded biannually by the Federal Minister of Labour, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection, after a successful completion of a specific certification process. The seal of quality is awarded for a period of three years, a re-certification is offered subsequently[10].

Employment

The National Reform Programme (NRP) for Growth and Jobs reconciles the aims of the employment policy, especially in terms of economic and structural policy, educational policy and regional policy. With the Territorial Employment Pacts[11], the NRP can point out in what form improved institutional reconciliation can be achieved between Federal Institutions, Provinces and Municipalities to secure and create jobs. One of the main topics of TEPs is the employment of older workers. According to the National Reform Programme for 2014[12], on 27 March 2014, the Austrian National Council passed a labour market package for older employees. The objective of these measures is to restore older persons’ capacity to work and to reintegrate them into the workforce. A total of 350 million will be allocated by 2016 in order to promote the employment of older persons more effectively (EUR 100 million per year in 2014 and in 2015, EUR 150 million in 2016). It is not clear whether some of these measures will include an occupational health and safety component, to ensure that the work capacity of older workers does not deteriorate while they are working, or whether it will focus solely on reintegrating older unemployed workers in the labour market.

Austrian Public Employment Service (AMS)

The Austrian Public Employment Service (AMS) (with its regional offices), in collaboration with the social partners and the national and regional insurance associations, has put in place a number of measures to promote the sustainable employment of older workers:

  • It provides financial assistance to employers for hiring workers aged 45. Financial support to employers is also possible for "Kurzarbeit", a concept that offers the possibility to reduce working hours instead of dismissing employees[13]. This is done with the support of the European Social Fund.
  • It has also set up part-time work for older workers (Altersteilzeit), which allows older workers to reduce working hours with the incentive not to lose any entitlements towards pensions, insurance or unemployment benefits for a maximum time of five years[14]. Employees may reduce their work by 40 to 60 % and get up to 70 to 80 % of their previous income, if they have worked as an employee for at least 15 years. The age to benefit from this measure is 53 years (women) and 58 years (men). The measure was very popular at the beginning of the years 2000, when it was created, as it served as a “replacement” for the early retirement scheme for reduced capacity which was phased out between 2000 and 2003. Its popularity then decreased as conditions got stricter[15].

Initiatives from social partners

The Federal Chamber of Labour, the Federal Economic Chamber, the Federation of Austrian Industries and the Trade Union Federation have set up a very comprehensive webpage “Arbeit & Alter”[16], which lists good practice examples of large and smaller companies and the measures they take towards well-being at work with a special focus on older workers. It includes a link to the seal of quality NESTOR GOLD (see above).

Following a report published in 2004 on “Health through Work”[17], the Federal Economic Chamber (WKÖ) has initiated the programme “proFITNESS: healthy employees – healthy enterprise” (proFITNESS: Gesunde Mitarbeiter – Gesundes Unternehmen) to support SMEs with health promotion[18]. The initiative is intended to help raise awareness of Austrian SMEs on issues related to healthy living and working conditions. Besides generally informing employers, the campaign offers supporting materials on the topics of nutrition, exercise and stress-reduction to assist with company-internal health promotion activities[19]. Existing initiatives and measures related to healthy workplaces have been compiled and relevant benefits for SMEs have been extracted in order to create the programme. One special focus group of the programme is older workers, as demand for health prevention is increasing for this age group because of the demographic change. A focus is to prevent diseases like diabetes, adiposities and psychological illnesses.

The Chamber of Labour supports several counselling initiatives and publishes material dealing with OSH in Austria. One in particular relates to older workers: the leaflet “Older workers – the gold within the company” (Ältere ArbeitnehmerInnen – Das verborgene Gold im Unternehmen) from September 2012 highlights the potential of the elderly population, issued together with the Trade Union Federation.

The aim of the 2007 initiative “Winning age. Getting future!” (Älter Werden. Zukunft Haben! –WAGE), developed by the Chamber of Labour of Upper Austria, is to provide a regional platform for information and know-how transfer between companies and intermediaries (e.g. social partners) and institutions for successful age management policies, in order to foster innovation and connect research, policy and economy. The WAGE network claims to be a centre of expertise in generation management, a platform for information and knowledge-transfer, an inducer of innovation and an interface between research, practical application, policy interests, providers and business. The actors involved in the network are businesses, developers at managerial and corporate levels, decision-makers, employees and the general public. The network also develops guidelines for “demographically correct” personnel policy and continuous measures of quality control and quality control criteria for advisory and qualification proposals[20].

Initiatives from other organisations/projects

The WAI Network Austria is a platform for dialogue to maintain and foster work ability. It was founded in 2008 at the initiative of the ÖPWZ (Österreichisches Produktivitäts- und Wirtschaftlichkeits- Zentrum), a centre for training and knowledge management[21]. The Work Ability Index (WAI) was developed in Finland in the 1980s. The platform is provided for experts (consultants, NGOs, government, social insurance, social partners, occupational physician, safety experts, etc.) and users (employers, human resources managers, employee representatives and employees). It is a tool that provides an overview of the work ability and age structures in each department of a company and, as a whole, enables an HR policy tailored to age and work ability. Employees can evaluate their own work ability and their chances for development.

Ximes, a consultancy and research institute on human resources issues, has produced a handbook for organising shift work (Handbuch Schichtpläne).93 The handbook gives advice on different models of shift work with regards to the needs of the employees (especially older workers) and also the ability for short term adjustments. It has an extra chapter on ergonomics, long work days, breaks and accidents with relation to work time. The second edition of the handbook was published in 2007.

References

  1. Austrian Labour Inspectorate webpage on the OSH strategy: http://www.arbeitsinspektion.gv.at/AI/Arbeitsschutz/strategie/en_strategy_0010.htm (Accessed December 2014)
  2. EU-OSHA OSHWIKI, “OSH system at national level – Austria”. Available at: http://oshwiki.eu/wiki/OSH_system_at_national_level_-_Austria (Accessed December 2104)
  3. Austrian Labour Inspectorate webpage on the implementation of gender mainstreaming in labour inspections: http://www.arbeitsinspektion.gv.at/AI/Arbeitsschutz/gender/gem_030.htm (Accessed December 2014)
  4. Austrian Labour Inspectorate webpage “Lighten the load”: http://www.arbeitsinspektion.gv.at/ew07/artikel/artikel01-03.htm (Accessed December 2104)
  5. Arbeitsgruppe zur Neugestaltung des Invaliditätsrechts (Working Group to redesign the disability law), Endbericht (final report), Invalidität im Wandel (September 2007 – Juli 2008), Manz, 2009. Available at: https://shop.lexisnexis.at/invaliditaet-im-wandel-9783214002565.html. Information on the initiative Invalidität im Wandel 2, with a specific focus on mental illness, is available on the website of BMASK: http://www.sozialministerium.at//site2/Soziales/Pensionen/Invaliditaet_im_Wandel_2/ (Accessed May 2015)
  6. For more details on the Fit for the Future programme, see the detailed case study carried out in the framework of the project “Safer and Healthier Work at Any Age”
  7. Fit2work homepage: http://www.fit2work.at/home/ (Accessed December 2014)
  8. AUVAfit webpage: http://www.auva.at/portal27/portal/auvaportal/channel_content/cmsWindow?action=2&p_menuid=73559&p_tabid=4&p_pubid=662008 (Accessed December 2014)
  9. Webpage “Arbeit und Gesundheit” (in German): http://www.arbeitundgesundheit.at/; and webpage of Betriebliche Gesundheitsförderung (BGF) (in German): www.netzwerk-bgf.at (Accessed December 2014)
  10. BMASK, Seal of Quality for age(ing) oriented organisations and companies, Information and Indicators, Vienna, June 2013. Available at: http://www.nestorgold.at/cms/nestor/attachments/0/4/5/CH2020/CMS1369642929722/information_and_indicators.engl.pdf (Accessed December 2014)
  11. Territorial Employment Pacts in Austria webpage: http://www.pakte.at/teps/kurz.html?_lang=en; Employment Pact in Vorarlberg webpage: http://www.beschaeftigungspakt.at/; Employment pact in Steiermark webpage: http://www.stebep.at/hintergrund-stebep.html (Accessed December 2014)
  12. Austria Federal Chancellery, National Reform Programme, 2014, as above
  13. AMS, Qualifizierungsförderung für Beschäftigte in Kurzarbeit im Rahmen des ESF (Ziel 2). Available at: http://www.ams.at/_docs/001_QfBKZiel2_Infoblatt.pdf; HELP.gv.at webpage on measures for older employees: https://www.help.gv.at/Portal.Node/hlpd/public/content/201/Seite.2010100.html#qual; Schmidt, K., Kailer, N., Weiterbildung älterer ArbeitnehmerInnen, ibw for the AMS, Wien, September 2008. Available at: http://www.forschungsnetzwerk.at/downloadpub/Enbericht_aeltere_weiterbildung_schmid_ibw.pdf (Accessed December 2014)
  14. Chamber of Labour webpage on partial retirement: http://www.arbeiterkammer.at/beratung/arbeitundrecht/pension/altersteilzeit/Altersteilzeit.html (Accessed December 2014)
  15. OECD, OECD Economic Surveys – Austria, Volume 2005/8, July 2005, p51
  16. Arbeit & Alter website: www.arbeitundalter.at (Accessed December 2014)
  17. Kriener B., Neudorfer E., Künzel D., Aichinger A., Gesund durchs Arbeitsleben, Empfehlungen für eine zukunfts- und alternsorientierte betriebliche Gesundheitsförderung in Klein- und Mittelunternehmen, diepartner.at for WKÖ, Wien, September 2004. Available at: https://www.wko.at/Content.Node/Profitness/Uns-geht-s-gut---Betriebliche-Gesundheitsf-rderung/BGFStudie_2.pdf (Accessed December 2014)
  18. proFITNESS homepage: http://www.profitnessaustria.at/ (Accessed December 2014)
  19. Kraftwerk webpage on proFITNESS: https://www.kraftwerk.co.at/EN/projects/WKO+proFITNESS.aspx (Accessed December 2014)
  20. WAGE webpage “Who we are” (in English): http://www.wage.at/index.php?id=89&L=1 (Accessed December 2014)
  21. WAI Netzwerk Austria homepage: http://www.wai-netzwerk.at/ (Accessed December 2014)