Ensuring a healthy workplace for commerce workers in Europe

Friday 1 July 2016


On 29 and 30 June 2016 in Brussels, Social partners from 12 European countries, including Turkey, discussed the importance of social dialogue for building a safe and healthy working environment for workers in retail and wholesale.

In the framework of an EU-funded project, UNI Europa and EuroCommerce organized a specific event to address three key issues related to health and safety: ergonomics, stress at work and psychosocial risks. “Muscular skeletal diseases are the main cause of absence from work for over three days” – said an OSHA representative – “only a small percentage of companies has a systematic risk assessment in place.”

The Commerce Social Partners surveyed its members and identified a number of good practices that were presented during the two days.

When talking about ergonomics, manual handling, repetitive movements or excessive static postures, shifting and lifting of heavy loads, slip and trips were identified as the major challenges. However, good examples show that together with workers and health and safety representatives, good solutions exists to avoid long-term diseases – for example, job rotation or specific cash desks.

Training, information and risk assessment were unanimously recognized as crucial to improve health and safety. Workers’ involvement in designing ergonomics solutions and carrying out risk assessment are key in building and spreading a health and safety culture.

Excessive time pressure, uncertainty linked to flexible hours, restructuring processes and new technologies were the main challenges pointed out by UNI Europa commerce affiliates involved in the survey.

“Stress at work and the risk of burn-out tend to be underestimated. The perception of the risk is sometimes less evident and if symptoms are not taken seriously and at an early stage, stress can become a serious disease causing absence and, in extreme cases, unemployment,” stated Laila Castaldo, Director for Commerce at UNI Europa. Tackling work organization and regular monitoring of stress are two effective responses to these kind of problems.

Finally, participants discussed how to address psychosocial risks and, in particular, third party violence such as verbal and physical abuses, violence of threat of violence. Underreporting is one the main challenges to overcome. An effective risk assessment and training can prevent and help workers facing threats from customers. Tackling third party violence can also help improving the image of the sector. Too often, workers tend to consider it as part of the job and not as something that needs to be seriously addressed and prevented.

In addition, participants also exchanged their views on the very sensitive topic of responsibility: where is the border between employees and employers’ responsibility in minimizing work- related health problems? What is the role of employers in providing the right training and work equipment and for the worker to effectively make us of it?

Next steps

Social partners will work with the University of Brussels to build a tool-kit for health and safety in commerce and will organize a final conference on 10 November 2016. The outcomes of the project will be advertised through the OSHA Agency and with the EU institutions.