The ultimate objective of occupational health is a safe and satisfactory work environment in which a healthy, active and productive worker, free from both occupational and non-occupational diseases, can carry out his or her daily work motivated to develop both as a worker and as an individual.
Central to health promotion is the direct involvement of people in maintaining or improving their own health. The assessment of health promotion needs in an enterprise and the evaluation of work towards meeting them are the essential components of health promotion management. For the development of workplace health, it is important to recognize the central role of the empowerment of employees, in terms of competency and level of autonomy; to ensure an appropriate balance between the processes of rationalization and the capacities of the workforce; to include a comprehensive understanding of health in company policies and in all procedures involved in a continuous improvement process; to ensure the establishment of an enterprise-wide participatory infrastructure; and to enable all levels of employee to share their interests and expertise with the key players.
Despite international guidance from WHO, the International Labour Organization, the European Commission and other organizations, some countries continue to perceive occupational health regulations as relating only to preventing occupational diseases and accidents or surveillance of the health of the working population. Most countries now have a great opportunity to take advantage of better managerial procedures, multidisciplinary preventive services and active employees' participation to improve the organization of work and the working culture, to maintain employees' working capacity (leading to reduced absenteeism from sickness), to increase workers' employability as a result of better occupational skills and to reduce the costs of human resource management in enterprises while increasing their productivity and sustainability.
In most countries, the government divides the responsibility for developing and implementing policy to promote workers' health and make the work environment healthy and safe between different ministries, usually the ministries responsible for health and for labour. Other ministries are also concerned about occupational health, including the ministries responsible for: environment (such as through issuing environmental emission licences), economics, industry and finance (through fiscal incentives, taxation policy and measures affecting the attitudes and relationships of social partners) and education (vocational education and part-time jobs for young people). Coordination of government policy on health, environment and safety management in industrial and other enterprises would help in promoting worker's health.
The health of older workers is becoming an essential issue. Determining how to increase the age at which people typically stop working without damaging their health or productivity has great economic implications for Europe.
Article 11 of the European Social Charter (Revised) (Strasbourg 1996) provides: With a view to ensuring the effective exercise of the right to protection of health, the Parties undertake, either directly or in co-operation with public or private organisations, to take appropriate measures designed inter alia: (1) to remove as far as possible the causes of ill-health; (2) to provide advisory and educational facilities for the promotion of health and the encouragement of individual responsibility in matters of health; (3) to prevent as far as possible epidemic, endemic and other diseases, as well as accidents.
Health promotion should not be used as a pretext for shifting responsibility for the protection of workers' health at the workplace from the employer to the worker.