EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Consultation on health and safety at work

About

Country: 
EU Level
Author: 
Andrea Broughton
Institution: 
Institute for Employment Studies

The European Commission is asking for views on its latest framework strategy on health and safety at work. An evaluation of the last strategy (2007–2012) praised its relevance and ambitious aim for all Member States to reduce accidents at work by 25%. However, it said there was still scope for improvement, particularly in implementing legislation. The consultation, open to all, will run from 31 May 2013 to 26 August 2013 and is hoped to identify challenges, as well as solutions.

Background

On 31 May 2013, the European Commission issued a public consultation on the new EU occupational safety and health framework. The consultation will gather insights and contributions from interested parties and the public. The aim is to help identify challenges, and solutions, in improving occupational safety and health (OSH).

Although the consultation is open to the public, the Commission is particularly anxious to hear from representatives of public authorities, organisations representing employees and employers, and stakeholders and experts in the field. The consultation takes the form of an online questionnaire.

Strategy’s ambitious goal

The basis for this consultation is the recent evaluation (7.5 MB PDF) of the European Strategy on Safety and Health at Work 2007–2012. This is the second EU-level Strategy on this topic (the first covered 2002–2006). The 2007–2012 strategy was widely viewed as setting an ambitious goal for all Member States – to reduce accidents at work by 25%.

In addition, a number of specific objectives were identified, such as:

  • improving and better implementing the EU regulatory framework on occupational safety and health;
  • adapting the framework to changes in the workplace;
  • developing coherent national strategies adjusted to the specific context of each Member State;
  • encouraging changes in behaviour and promotion of a preventive culture addressing all parts of society.

The evaluation of the 2007–2012 strategy makes a number of observations. Overall, it notes that the strategy was considered highly relevant by stakeholders, and concluded that the target of a 25% reduction in the number of accidents at work is likely to have been reached. It acknowledges, though, that this may have diverted attention from the prevention of occupational diseases, largely because this area had no similar target.

The strategy is also thought to have helped improve the implementation of occupational safety and health legislation. All Member States but one now have a national OSH strategy or equivalent measures in place.

Scope for improvement

Nevertheless, the evaluation also concludes that there is scope for improvement. Specifically, it states that implementation of OSH legislation remains a challenge, particularly in the case of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and micro enterprises. The evaluation notes that these types of business employ a significant proportion of the workforce in the EU. It also says that, while the strategy was implemented effectively, some gaps remain, particularly in terms of its impact on companies and, again, particularly on SMEs. In addition, the collection of statistical data on accidents could be improved further.

In terms of the structure of the strategy itself, the evaluation concludes that while it contained a great many detailed actions, it lacked internal logic and evaluation indicators. It also says that although Member State governments were active in implementing the strategy, there was less ownership and commitment among the social partners. The evaluation says there is scope for more coordination in research on OSH.

Key challenges

The Commission has identified what it sees as the main OSH challenges. It says that while a further significant reduction in the incidence of occupational accidents was achieved, there are indications that the incidence of occupational diseases did not diminish. Current major health and safety concerns are likely to remain.

It says other challenges are:

  • identifying the health and safety risks of new or emergent risks, such as, for example, nanomaterials, chemicals that disrupt the endocrine system and electromagnetic field hazards;
  • the EU’s ageing workforce and high unemployment, which increases the need for measures to retain workers in the workplace. Healthier workers are able to work longer, and healthier, safer workplaces make for healthier workers;
  • the implementation of the EU OSH legal framework in SMES and micro enterprises. SMEs have to deal with the same risks as large-scale employers, but they often do not have the same level and depth of expertise on occupational safety and health;
  • checking the accuracy and comparability of statistical tools at EU and Member State level to monitor the progress of the strategy, particularly with regard to occupational diseases.

Responses to the consultation are sought by 26 August 2013.

Andrea Broughton, Institute for Employment Studies