How will the transition to a Circular Economy impact occupational Safety and Health?

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In EU-OSHA’s Foresight Study on the Circular Economy, several perspectives have been developed on how Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) could be impacted by enhanced circularity. This study is carried out against the background the EU’s Green Deal initiative and the related initiatives to promote a circular economy, many with significant policy and regulatory implications for the EU’s waste and recycling sector (European Commission, 2015). These initiatives – and indeed the circular economy as a whole- are widely considered to be beneficial against climate change, as well they are expected to have impact on jobs and OSH. While there could be opportunity to create good-quality jobs (see, for example, WHO, 2018) and improved OSH, there will be risks and challenges, especially in the areas of maintenance and repair, disassembly, and recycling in many sectors from energy and transport to manufacturing, construction and agriculture.

Four scenarios have been generated by EU-OSHA together with Future Impacts via first an extensive literature analysis including EU-OSHA’s earlier Foresight work, as well as a key-factor-based scenario methodology and (validating) expert interviews. The four scenarios and more information on the methodology can be found on EU-OSHA’s website (1) exploring emerging risks and the circular economy. The first results show that the potential pathways for a circular economy in Europe and their effects on OSH could vary widely, among them e.g. increased risks from repeated recycling processes, as well as e.g. opportunities around a socio-ecological transformation approach that includes the integration of OSH considerations in the very first stages of product development and design. As well, a set of cross-cutting and overarching key messages have been identified. With this study, the scenarios and its outputs, we aim to encourage dialogue and reflection with stakeholders around future possibilities, as well as informing today’s policy- and decision-makers in an anticipatory manner. In the ongoing follow-up phase of the project, a series of participatory workshops has been organized to disseminate the results, as well as to enrich the results in the form of tailored micro-scenario’s.

European Circular Economies (and OSH) in 2040: Four Scenarios (2)

More information
Annick Starren
starren@osha.europa.eu

References
European Commission (2015). Closing the loop — An EU action plan for the Circular Economy. COM/2015/0614 final of 2 December 2015.
https://eur- lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A52015DC0614

WHO — World Health Organisation, Regional Office for Europe (2018). Circular economy and health: opportunities and risks. https://www.euro.who.int/en/publications/abstracts/circular-economy-and-health-opportunities- and-risks-2018

Most relevant articles as published on EU – OSHA’s website
EU-OSHA — European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (2021a). Foresight study on the circular economy and its effects on OSH.
https://osha.europa.eu/en/publications/foresight-study-circular-economy-and-its-effects-occupational-safety-and-health/view

EU-OSHA — European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (2021b). Executive Summary – Foresight Study on the Circular Economy and its effects on Occupational Safety and Health.

EU-OSHA — European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (2021e). The circular economy and safety and health: The role of digitalisation in the circular economy and implications for occupational safety and health until 2040.
https://osha.europa.eu/en/publications/circular-economy-and-safety-and-health-role-digitalisation-circular-economy-and-implications-occupational-safety-and-health-until-2040

EU-OSHA — European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (2021f). The Circular Economy and Safety and Health: Possible implications for future waste sector workplaces. https://osha.europa.eu/en/publications/circular-economy-and-safety-and-health-possible-implications-future-waste-sector-workplaces

(1) See amongst others the Report of phase 1: Foresight Study on the Circular Economy and its effects on Occupational Safety and Health (EU-OSHA, 2021a); the related Executive Summary: Foresight Study on the Circular Economy and its effects on Occupational Safety and Health (EU-OSHA, 2021b); and the Policy Briefs: The circular economy and safety and health, The role of digitalisation in the circular economy and implications for occupational safety and health until 2040 (EU-OSHA, 2021e), The Circular Economy and Safety and Health: Possible implications for future waste sector workplaces (EU-OSHA, 2021f).

(2) All scenario visualisations were realised by Michelle Winkelsdorf.

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PEROSH comprises 14 Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) institutes

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