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Why working life is key

| By Berit Kvam

The thinking surrounding the working environment is changing. Demands for new knowledge and increased productivity, an ageing population and not least the unfathomable costs of a bad working environment are all factors that call for fresh thinking. What works? Paying your way out of the problems, or putting work’s content centre stage? And what happens in the new labour market which is now emerging?

Work-related accidents and injuries costs the EU €476m every year, according to figures presented by the ILO at the international working environment conference in Singapore recently. On a global level the number of fatal accidents continue to rise, despite a parallel rise in declarations and resolutions aimed at improving the situation.

That is why Finland’s initiative of turning good intentions into reality got a lot of attention. Right there and then the first step on the road to creating a global working environment coalition was taken, as the Nordic Labour Journal describes in this month’s theme: A good working environment – the Nordic region’s strength.

The working environment is one of the Nordic region’s strengths. But this has not happened in a vacuum, and it is not without challenges. The story From soot to sun highlights the long fight against disease and injuries caused by bad working environments. The good news is that it no longer is the same materials that represent the biggest threat today. Improvements in working environments have been successful, threats change over time, and each era has its challenges. 

Today the sun is centre of attention. More than half of reported work-related deaths were caused by cancer, while heart and coronary disease is behind one in four deaths. Workplace accidents only represent two percent. German cancer researcher Claas Ulrich is one of those who point to the major challenges and issues that need to be addressed in this area.

The sharing economy is but one example of how new technology changes and challenges working life. The Danish government has presented a strategy as their first step towards regulating the country’s sharing economy. The social partners say more than that is needed if you are to create safe frameworks for people working there.

The new labour market with greater cross-border mobility is also a double-edged sword for the working environment. We see this in Iceland where the need for labour has created a wave of foreign workers finding jobs both in tourism and in the construction industry. It helps Iceland’s economy grow, but also creates language problems which can increase the risk for workplace accidents and injuries.

The thinking around the good working environment has become blurred recently, believes the Director General at the Norwegian National Institute of Occupational Health. The Nordic region is good at change, but you need to focus on the right issues if you are to achieve your goals of for instance increased productivity. Many associate a good working environment with good welfare and profitability, and not so much with how to prevent work-related illness or injury. That is why Pål Molander focuses on the good things about the Nordic working life. You need an organisation which allows the individual to thrive and do a good job. The Nordic region must not forget the true meaning of a good working environment, he says.

Maria Albin echoes his thoughts. In the face of current demographic challenges, she focuses not only on the challenges facing individual people, but on the actual nature of the work. The professor from Karolinska Institutet is the keynote speaker at the European working environment conference in Bilbao in November. She will talk about the challenges of an ageing workforce and how to make it easier for people to retire later, as she explains to the Nordic Labour Journal.



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