Promoting employability. Photo: DGUV
The meeting, involving over 60 participants from all world regions and focused on the theme of Promoting employability: Activity, health and reintegration , was organized jointly by the International Social Security Association (ISSA) with the German Federal Working Group on Safety and Health at Work (Basi) and Rehabilitation International. The seminar was held in the context of the A+A, a major international occupational safety and health trade event.
According to the World Health Organization, up to 15 per cent of the world population lives with some form of disability. While mortality due to communicable diseases is declining, the number of people affected by chronic diseases is surging, due to changing lifestyles and economic pressures. In the European Union, around 350 million working days are lost each year due to illness, and the economic crisis has increased levels of stress and depression, which are among the major causes of disability. In developed economies, sickness and disability benefits can cost as much as 2.5 times the amount dedicated to unemployment benefits.
From absenteesim to return to work
Prevention of occupational accidents and diseases can help to reduce absenteeism from work, and it is the goal of many insurance schemes to maintain the employability of workers and to bring back those who are not in active employment due to work-related sickness or accidents.
“Rehabilitation and reintegration are key to ensuring sustainable solutions in social security,” ISSA Secretary General Hans-Horst Konkolewsky stated. "Social security is faced with the combined challenge of a growth in the number of people affected by chronic diseases and the consequent increase in costs, including expenditure related to health care, sickness benefits and invalidity pensions." The ISSA is focusing on proactive and preventive approaches in social security, he explained, as a means to improve the health and employability of the people affected, and as a way of ensuring the sustainability of social security systems.
While the topic of prevention is often associated with work-place risk assessment (primary prevention), according to Marc de Greef, Executive Director of Prevent, the Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (Belgium) and a member of the ISSA's Special Commission on Prevention, it is essential to address the secondary and tertiary levels of prevention, including health monitoring and return-to-work actions and reintegration. Effective prevention strategies and early intervention can have a beneficial effect for employers and employees alike, he said.
To deny the right to work to over one billion people would not only go against all social values, but is also a major economic risk, which requires a new emphasis on rehabilitation, underlined Joachim Breuer, Director General of the German Social Accident Insurance and Chair of the ISSA’s Technical Commission on Insurance against Employment Accidents and Occupational Diseases. Rehabilitation pays dividends, as costs are offset by reduced disability benefits, as well as the revenues generated by a productive worker.
Investment in rehabilitation and reintegration
During the seminar, evidence from several countries confirmed that investment in rehabilitation and reintegration services can offset the growing financial impact on social security systems that compensate people affected by accidents and illness. Despite examples of good practices from Asia and Europe, it was recognized that social security institutions are often faced with challenges, including legislative obstacles, as they may not have the mandate to carry out prevention or rehabilitation services, but only to compensate for accidents and other contingencies.
During the closing session, a round table of experts called on the ISSA to support social security institutions in their efforts to move from a primarily reactive to a proactive system of social security, with a greater role in employability, health promotion and rehabilitation efforts. Health care was identified as a priority area for coordinated action, including analysis of the consequences of the steady increase of non-communicable and in particular chronic diseases; bridging the gap between public health, workplace health and private health; and addressing the responsibility gap between prevention and rehabilitation.
Participants also noted the importance of including a dimension of rehabilitation in the upcoming discussion of the social protection floor, scheduled to take place during the International Labour Conference in June 2012.
During the seminar, it was announced that the ISSA Secretariat, together with its Technical Commissions, Rehabilitation International and the International Disability Management Standards Council, will be working to identify good practices in the area of return-to-work and disability management.