New EU strategic framework on health and safety at work

The effects of COVID-19 have revealed the importance of addressing health risks to workers during a health crisis. In this context, the European Commission is renewing its commitment to update occupational safety and health rules. On 28 June, the organization adopted the EU strategic framework on health and safety at work 2021-2027, setting out the key actions needed to improve workers’ health and safety over the coming years.

The work of the past decades on improving prevention systems has shown progress – for example, fatal accidents at work in the EU have decreased by about 70% since between 1994 and 2018. Despite this, there were still more than 3,300 fatal accidents and 3.1 million non-fatal accidents in the EU-27 in 2018. More than 200,000 workers die each year from work-related illnesses.

The European Union has outlined three objectives in its six-year strategic plan to identify and address workplace hazards.

1. Anticipating and managing change in the new world of work

To ensure safe and healthy workplaces during the digital, green and demographic transitions, the Commission will review the Workplaces Directive and the Display Screen Equipment Directive and update protective limits on asbestos and lead. It will prepare an EU-level initiative related to mental health at work that assesses emerging issues related to workers’ mental health and puts forward guidance for action.

2. Improving prevention of work-related diseases and accidents

This strategic framework will promote a ‘vision zero‘ approach to eliminate work-related deaths in the EU. The Commission will also update EU rules on hazardous chemicals to combat cancer, reproductive, and respiratory diseases.

3. Increasing preparedness for possible future health threats

Drawing lessons from the current pandemic, the Commission will develop emergency procedures and guidance for the rapid deployment, implementation and monitoring of measures in potential future health crises, in close cooperation with public-health actors.

This strategic framework aims at mobilising EU institutions, Member States, social partners and other relevant stakeholders around common priorities on workers’ health and safety protection. It will be underpinned by: (i) a strengthened evidence base; (ii) strong social dialogue; (iii) mobilised funding; (iv) improved enforcement; and (v) awareness raising.

Member States will need to address green and digital issues in national OSH strategies, and improve prevention and preparedness to ensure that updated measures and approaches reach the work floor.

At the enterprise level, this will translate into planning and anticipative measures by employers. Targeted and updated guidance as well as awareness raising and digital tools with a particular focus on SMEs are needed to support them in this transition to ensure a high level of workers’ protection and sustainable solutions, but also to preserve competitiveness.

Fore more information on the EU strategic framework on health and safety at work 2021-2027: read here.

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