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Risk assessment seen as key to safety at work.

It was an accident waiting to happen.

The farm in northern France was extremely busy that day. Viviane Decock was bustling about, filling crates with freshly-picked chicory. It was harvest time and she was struggling to keep up with the pickers. Suddenly she noticed a crate about to fall off the stacking machine.

“At that time there was no protection cage. So it was easy for me to put my arm in to get at the crate ... and my arm was cut by the machine.”

Every year about 7 500 workers in the EU are killed on the job and about 170 000 die of work-related accidents or illnesses. More than 7 million are hurt badly enough to require at least three days off work. Farming, construction, transport and healthcare are the most dangerous occupations.

Many of these accidents and illnesses could be prevented by thorough risk assessment, but a lot of employers don’t do them properly. Large companies are more likely than small firms to have carried out a risk-assessment study. Yet small and mid-sized businesses account for more than 80% of accidents and 90% of fatalities at work. Job-related accidents and illnesses are not only a tragedy for the individuals involved. They are also damaging to business.

The importance of risk assessment has been highlighted in an EU campaign advising companies on how to carry out the assessments. Hundreds of events – conferences, exhibitions and training sessions - were held around Europe during European week for safety and health at work (20-24 October).

Mrs Decock was one of 10 people employed on the chicory farm at the time of her accident. Doctors were able to reattach her arm but it took 18 months, three operations and intensive rehabilitation before she was able to regain some use of it.

After the accident in 2002, a protective screen was installed around the power stacking system and her husband, the farm’s owner, brought in a specialist to help him look for other threats to workers’ safety. “We became much more aware after the accident,” Géry Decock said. “Before, we just worked. We didn’t see the dangers that can arise.”

European agency for safety and health at work

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