Reporting and monitoring occupational accidents and diseases in Europe
Markku Aaltonen, Timo Kauppinen and Anja Saalo, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health
Effective prevention requires that statistics are reliable and accurate enough to allow the identification of industries, occupation and work tasks where there is a high risk of accident or disease. The measures can then be focused on these tasks and future cases may thereby be prevented.
This article describes how monitoring of occupational accidents and diseases may be integrated into the national surveillance systems of occupational health and safety. European data collection and reporting systems are described for accidents and diseases. Some basic statistics are then presented on accidents and diseases. Finally, references and links are provided for further information on this topic.
Framework and use of statistics
Occupational accidents and diseases are the types of health outcomes which have been monitored in almost every country already for decades. There are two main reasons for continuous monitoring (surveillance) of occupational accidents and diseases so that they can be
- prevented in the future and
- compensation paid to the victims.
The free and wide availability of statistics is essential because information about risks needs to reach the individuals and organisations so that they can influence working conditions in the workplaces.
The creation of country profiles is the current way to illustrate the state of occupational safety and health (OSH) in a particular nation. The development of policies for occupational health and safety is increasingly being steered by basing policy decisions based on up-to date information describing the current status of health and safety, the exposures and risks threatening health, and information on the consequences of such exposures at both the individual and population levels. This type of information is also of critical importance for setting priorities for further development and identification of needs for actions. The basic requirements for health, safety and environment are laid down in legislation, such as the Directives on Safety and Health at Work of the European Union.
World Health Organisation (WHO) has proposed four categories of OSH indicators:
- health policy indicators;
- social and economic indicators;
- indicators of health care delivery; and
- indicators of health status.
Statistics on occupational accidents and diseases belong to the indicator category on health status and they represent a foundation on which to base important OSH policy activities in a country. Health surveillance indicators include also information about mortality, other work-related diseases, work absenteeism, occurrence of symptoms, life-style factors, etc.
Indicators are an appropriate way to illustrate the state of OSH in a country or region. The data analysis phase of gathering the indicators should be followed by the interpretation and evaluation of their significance (see Figure 1).
This analysis should be carried out by experts familiar with the subject matter. It is crucial that the process will proceed to appropriate actions on:
- direct prevention,
- dissemination of information,
- other relevant activities.
Thus reliable, comparable, up-to-date statistical information is vital for setting policy objectives and adopting suitable policy measures. An accurate statistical picture of health and safety at work is critical for monitoring policy and identifying preventive needs
In the European Union, the Commission's Community strategy (2007–2012) on health and safety at work aims to improve the quality and productivity of working life. Health and safety at work is considered as one of the most important aspects of EU policy on employment and social affairs. The overall objective of the strategy is to reduce by 25% the total incidence rate of accidents at work per 100,000 workers in the EU-27 during the strategy period.
In the European Union, there is a legal obligation to report occupational accidents and diseases. However, there are practical differences on how the reporting systems have been established in different member states. The European Directive 89/391/EEC on ‘‘Improvements in the safety and health of workers at work’’  represents the legal basis for all matters related to safety and health at work, and the EU member states have implemented new laws and regulations in order to conform to this directive. However, the member states have acted at different speeds and with different levels of detail, mostly depending on their own ‘‘state-of-the-art’’ and stage of development. As a result, member states have their own systems for the production of statistics on accidents at work. This current situation has created new difficulties such as the comparison of data and statistics between member states.
Sources of data and reporting systems
Since 1994, a single system, the European Statistics on Accidents at Work (ESAW), has been used to collect statistical data on accidents at work in the European Union. This system allows a uniform presentation for European and member state statistics and a comparison between the statistics gathered by member states. Within ESAW, a harmonised methodology for the data collection has been established. Information is collected on the following variables: economic activity of the employer, occupation of the victim, age and sex of the victim, type of injury, body part injured, time of the accident, size of the enterprise, employment status of the victim and days lost. Since 2001, phase 3 of the European Statistics on Accidents at Work methodology has been gradually implemented. In addition to the above variables, it includes information concerning the circumstances and events leading up to the accidents. The details of the ESAW methodology are found in the report "European statistics on accidents at work (ESAW) - Methodology - 2001 edition”. A resume of the concepts and the coverage of the data can also be found in the report "Work and health in the EU. A statistical portrait 1994–2002".
Jacinto & Aspinwall (2004) have conducted a special survey on the procedures for reporting occupational accidents in the 15 EU member states. The survey showed that many European countries have different methods and procedures for collecting and compiling data on occupational accidents. This situation creates problems when comparing accident statistics between countries. However, all these countries do have official and compulsory notification forms for the reporting of accidents at work.
The European Statistics on Occupational Diseases (EODS) and national data sources have been used to collect statistical data on occupational diseases. The project on European Statistics on Occupational Diseases started in 1995 and the first data collected according to the Phase 1 methodology was ready in the year 2001. The methodology of EODS (European Occupational Diseases Statistics) includes detailed information on the causative agent of the occupational diseases and collection of information about the use or purpose of these causative agents is planned as well. It should be noted that not all workers are covered by the national data collection systems in member states. With respect to occupational disease, problems arise from under-reporting and differences between the national social security systems.
The details of the EODS methodology are found in the report "European occupational diseases statistics (EODS) – Phase 1 Methodology" . Information is collected on the following variables: age, sex, and occupation at time of harmful exposure of the victim, economic activity of employer at time of harmful exposure, diagnosis, severity of disease, exposure, year of first recognition, severity of disease of first recognition. Eurostat (2010) has collected new cases of occupational diseases recognized by the national authorities in 24 member states (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and United Kingdom).
Statistical data on occupational accidents and diseases
The European Commission (2009) has published a report about the first detailed and comprehensive analysis of causes and circumstances of accidents at work in the 15 member states of the European Union from the years 1995-2005. The publication consists of two parts, namely (i) "Statistical analysis of ESAW Phase III data" and (ii) "Implications on preventive measures". The aim of the first part was to describe the situation with respect to accidents at work in statistical terms using available European Statistics on Accidents at Work (ESAW) data, and, in particular ESAW Phase III data related to the causes and circumstances of accidents at work. Subsequently on the basis of conclusions from the statistical analysis, the second part provides proposals for possible measures that should be implemented to prevent accidents at work.
According to the report, around 4 million occupational accidents which required more than three work days of absence occurred in the EU-15 in 2005. This figure is 17.4% lower compared to the situation in 1995. With respect to fatal accidents, this trend is even more remarkable with a reduction of 35.6% in the same period. The non-fatal accident rate (work accidents per 100,000 workers) in the nine main economic branches decreased by 27.4% in 1995–2005, and the rate for fatal accidents decreased even more (42.4%) in the same period. In 2005, the incidence rate for these branches fell for the first time below the threshold of 3,100 non-fatal accidents per 100,000 workers, and below 3.5 fatal accidents per 100,000 workers. In 2000, this downward trend gained momentum, with incidence rates for non-fatal accidents falling by 5.9% from 1995 to 2000, but by 22.9% in the period from 2000 to 2005.
Data from the latest Eurostat's European Statistics on Accidents at Work (ESAW) publication (2010) indicated that 2.9% of the workers suffered an accident at work requiring more than three days of sickness absence in 2007. A total of 5,580 workers died in a fatal accident in 2007. When comparing the number of fatal accidents in the EU-15, it was found that this figure had decreased from 5275 persons in 1999 to 3580 persons in 2007.
Occupational accidents occurred more often in men, younger workers, and in workers with a low educational level. Highly skilled manual workers and workers in the sectors ‘construction’, ‘manufacturing’, and ‘agriculture, hunting and forestry’ more often reported an accident. It was estimated that occupational accidents resulted in at least 83 million calendar sick days in 2007. This figure does not include those workers that do not expect ever to work again and workers that were already on sick leave.
More information about occupational accidents in individual EU member states is provided on the EUROSTAT's web page on safety and health at work. In addition, each member state publishes national statistics in their own language.
Between 2001 and 2007 musculoskeletal diseases accounted for most to the occupational diseases recognised by the authorities in member states according to the European Statistics on Occupational Diseases (EODS). Neurological diseases, lung diseases, diseases of the sensory organs, and skin diseases also contributed substantially. Men were registered more often with an occupational disease than women. Most men with an occupational disease were working in the sectors 'manufacturing’, and ‘construction’.
Most women with an occupational disease worked in the sectors ‘wholesale, retail and trade’ and ‘health and social work’. Around 25% of the recognized occupational diseases led to permanent incapacity to work.
In different countries the total numbers of occupational diseases recognised varies from a few dozen to tens of thousands. Because of problems of comparability between different countries, statistics on occupational diseases are published only jointly for all countries participating in EODS. The obligatory list consists of 68 diseases. The EODS specifications also include 41 diagnostic entities which can be provided optionally. These diseases are not covered by the reporting systems in all participating countries and therefore the data are incomplete. The number of these cases has been clearly lower than that of the obligatory list of diseases.
The most frequent diseases recorded in 2005–2007 were carpal tunnel syndrome, diseases due to overstraining of the muscular and tendonous insertions, diseases due to overstraining of the tendon sheaths, pre-patellar and sub-patellar bursitis, hypoacousis or deafness caused by noise, lung cancer following the inhalation of asbestos dust, chronic obstructive bronchitis or emphysema in miners working in underground coal mines, fibrotic diseases of the pleura, with respiratory restriction, caused by asbestos.
More detailed statistics on occupational diseases have been published in 'Statistics in focus – Occupational Diseases in Europe in 2001' by Karjalainen & Niederlaender (2004). Eurostat does not publish national data on occupational diseases due to incomparability problems. National data are available as reports and on the Internet from the national organisations responsible for these statistics. EUROGIP performs comparative surveys on occupational risks in Europe. These analyses include aspects of prevention or insurance (compensation and risk premium rating) related to occupational accidents and occupational diseases.
- Rantanen, J., Kauppinen T., Toikkanen, J., Kurppa, K., Lehtinen, S., Leino, T., 'Work and health country profiles - Country profiles and national surveillance indicators in occupational health and safety', People and Work - Research Reports 44, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Helsinki 2001.
- Eurostat – statistical office of the European Union, 'Health and safety at work in Europe (1999–2007) - A statistical portrait', Eurostat Statistical Books, 2010 Edition, Luxembourg, 2010. Available at: http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/portal/page/portal/product_details/publication?p_product_code=KS-31-09-290
- EC – European Commission, 'Improving quality and productivity at work: Community strategy 2007-2012 on health and safety at work'. Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament, COM(2007)62, Brussels ,2007. Available at: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/site/en/com/2007/com2007_0062en01.pdf.
- Council Directive 89/391/EEC of 12 June 1989 on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work, OJ 183 of 29.6.89. Available at: http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/employment_and_social_policy/health_hygiene_safety_at_work/c11113_en.htm
- Jacinto, C. & Aspinwall, E., 'A survey on occupational accidents reporting and registration systems in the European Union', Safety Science 42 (2004), pp. 933–960.
- EC – European Commission, European statistics on accidents at work (ESAW), Methodology, Doc. ESTAT/E3/HSW/2001/1130, 2001. Available at: http://www.osh.org.il/UpLoadFiles/00_eustat_methodology_accident_reporting.pdf
- EC – European Commission, Work and health in the EU, A statistical portrait: Data 1994-2002, Luxembourg, 2004.
- EC – European Commission, 'European occupational diseases statistics (EODS) – Phase 1 Methodology', Population and social conditions 3/2000/E/n°19, Luxembourg, 2000. Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/social/BlobServlet?docId=3153&langId=en
- EC – European Commission, Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, F4 unit, 'Causes and circumstances of accidents at work in the EU', Luxembourg, 2009. Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=738&langId=en&pubId=207&furtherPubs=yes
- Karjalainen, A., Niederlaender, E., 'Statistics in focus – Occupational Diseases in Europe in 2001', Population and social conditions 15/2004, European Communities, 2004. Available at: http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/cache/ITY_OFFPUB/KS-NK-04-015/EN/KS-NK-04-015-EN.PDF.
Links for further reading
Commission Recommendation 2003/670/EC of 19 September 2003 concerning the European schedule of occupational diseases. Retrieved 01 July 2011, from: http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/employment_and_social_policy/health_hygiene_safety_at_work/c11112_en.htm
Eurogip, List of publications: statistics (no publishing date available). Retrieved 01 July 2011, from: http://www.eurogip.fr/en/liste-publications.php?id_theme=27
EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (no publishing date available), Monitoring of Occupational Safety and Health in the European Union. Retrieved 01 July 2011, from: http://osha.europa.eu/en/topics/osm
EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (no publishing date available), European Risk Observatory. Retrieved 01 July 2011, from: http://osha.europa.eu/en/riskobservatory/
EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (no publishing date available), Statistics. Retrieved 01 July 2011, from: http://osha.europa.eu/en/statistics
Eurostat – Statistical office of the European Union (no publishing date available), Safety and Health at Work. Retrieved 01 July 2011, from: http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/portal/page/portal/health/health_safety_work
Eurostat – Statistical office of the European Union (updated 2007), Accidents at work, Reference Metadata in Euro SDMX Metadata Structure (ESMS). Retrieved 01 July 2011, from: http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/cache/ITY_SDDS/en/hsw_acc_work_esms.htm
Eurostat – Statistical office of the European Union, Health and safety at work. Retrieved 01 July 2011, from: http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/portal/page/portal/health/health_safety_work
HSE – Health and Safety Laboratory (no publishing date available), European comparisons – Statistics of workplace fatalities and injuries across the European Union. Retrieved 01 July 2011, from: http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/european/index.htm
Hämäläinen, P., 'Global Estimates of Occupational Accidents and Fatal Work-Related Diseases'. Doctoral thesis. Publication 917, Tampere University of Technology. Tampere, 2010.
Wikipedia – The Free Encyclopedia, Occupational accident (21 June 2011). Retrieved 01 July 2011, from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupational_accident
Wikipedia – The Free Encyclopedia (16 June 2011), Occupational disease. Retrieved 01 July 2011, from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupational_disease
Wikipedia – The Free Encyclopedia, Risk Obsevatory (29 January 2011). Retrieved 1 July 2011, from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Risk_observatory