Commission publishes health and safety strategy for EU workers

Labour market


Every year more than three million workers are victims of a serious accident at work in the EU and 4,000 people die in workplace accidents. The Commission today (June 6) published a new strategy framework on Health and Safety at Work for 2014-2020.

The strategy aims to better protect the more than 217 million workers from work-related accidents and diseases. They affect all sectors and professions and apart from the personal suffering, they also impose high costs on companies and society as a whole. Some workers are more at risk than others, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion László Andor, said at a press conference on Friday (6 June).

“Construction and transport are indeed the sectors where the largest number of fatalities happen in the EU, and obviously it’s not a solution not to have construction in the future. We need safe construction sites and this is what we have to develop. improve the practices and the enforcement. Very often it’s simply the enforcement of the existing rules which is needed of the existing ideas or measures,” he said.

The Commission’s Strategic Framework states that more effective and efficient risk prevention strategies should be put in place for micro and small enterprises. Prevention of work-related diseases by tackling new and emerging risks should occur without neglecting existing threats and the ageing of the EU’s workforce should also be taken into account.

To address the challenges, the Commission proposes consolidating national health and safety strategies through policy coordination and mutual learning, improving statistical data collection and tackling existing and new risks such as nanomaterials, green technologies and biotechnologies.

“We have to look into the details and the risks of new technologies, including nanotechnology, where if there are significant risks, as this is an entirely new area, we need to be very well-prepared to manage and eliminate the health risks and the potential significant consequences,” Andor stressed.

>> Read: Eurobarometer: Only half of Europeans say they have good working conditions

More than half of Europeans (53%) said that working conditions are good, according to a survey by Eurobarometer covering the 28 member states. At the same time, almost 60% said their working conditions have deteriorated in the last five years. 27% say conditions have stayed the same, while 12% think they have improved. But 77% of the respondents still said that they are “satisfied” with their current working conditions, though these have deteriorated in the last five years, according to almost 60% of the workers.

The Commission added that, especially in the context of the economic crisis, investing in a culture of risk prevention and promoting better conditions at the workplace offers economic and social benefits such as fewer work-related mishaps, improved staff well-being and job satisfaction.

Similar rules across the EU could create a level playing field for all businesses within the single market, the EU’s executive said, addressing at the same time the need to prevent social dumping.

Józef Niemiec, deputy general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), said:

“The ETUC has been waiting for years for this Health and Safety Strategy, and we are disappointed it is weak and insubstantial. It contains no concrete proposal for action, and no specific improvements to health and safety. The framework document does identify a number of challenges to be addressed, such as the capacity of SMEs to prevent risks, the tackling of new risks such as from nanomaterials, muscoskeletal disorders, specific risks for women, pyscho-social, mental disorders and specific types of cancers) and the impact of an ageing workforce on health and safety. These are important issues and the strategy should, but does not, commit to improve legislation – or come forward with new proposals - to tackle  the challenges it identifies.

However, the strategy does acknowledges that 4,000 people die in the EU every year due to accidents at work, and that 160,000 people die every year from work-related diseases, the majority related to cancer. Despite this, the strategy threatens to deregulate health and safety – claiming the need for 'simplifying legislation where appropriate' to make it easier for SMEs to implement health and safety. The strategy proposes to treat health and safety as part of REFIT programme of cutting so-called red-tape. Workers’ safety is not a bureaucratic burden. The ETUC is disappointed that the joint recommendations of trade unions and employers on health and safety are not being taken up by the Commission in this strategy or in other initiatives."

In 2011, a European Parliament report on the Occupational Safety and Health at work (OSH), led by MEP Karima Delli, stressed that further harmonisation at EU level had to be developed, especially in tackling the development of new psycho-social risks.

Even though EU legislation on OSH existed in the form of a 1989 framework directive and other directives on specific risks or sectors, like REACH, psycho-social risks were not sufficiently dealt with, highlighted the Parliament’s report.

This in-depth analysis includes an evaluation of the previous EU OSH Strategy 2007-2012, consultation of relevant stakeholders such as the Advisory Committee on Safety and Health at Work and Senior Labour Inspectors' Committee, and obtaining feedback from all interested parties through the public consultation launched in the summer of 2013.

The Commission has now published an analysis in order to decide on the next steps concerning a future EU occupational health and safety policy framework.

  • Autumn 2014: Proposal transmitted to the European Parliament, the EU's Council of ministers, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions.
  • 2015: First evaluation results to be taking into account as part of the 2016 review of the Strategic Framework.

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