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EC Launches Initiative to Improve Worker Health and Safety

 Jan 2017

The European Commission is taking action to promote occupational safety and health in the EU. The new initiative, developed in close consultation with stakeholders at all levels, builds on previous commitments and aims to:EC logo

  • Improve worker protection against work-related cancer
  • help businesses (particularly SME's and micro businesses) improve their efforts to comply with the existing legislative framework
  • put a bigger focus on results and less on paperwork

Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, Marianne Thyssen, commented:

"Today we present a clear action plan for sound occupational safety and health at the workplace in the 21st century with rules that are clear, up-to-date and effectively applied on the ground. We also deliver on our commitment to fight work-related cancer, by addressing exposure to seven more cancer-causing chemicals which will improve protection of some 4 million workers in Europe. We join forces with Member States and stakeholders to create a healthy and safe workplace for all."

While the EU has been at the forefront of OHS over the past 25 years, (since the first Directive was agreed), an estimated 160 000 Europeans continue to die from illnesses associated with their work each year. 

Since 2008, the fatalities at work have fallen by nearly a quarter and the percentage of EU workers reporting at least one health problem (caused or aggravated by work) dropped by almost 10%  and continuing to see these figures fall by safeguarding and updating the high European standards remains a top priority.

The EC has outlined the following key action points as part of the process:

  • Set exposure limits or other measures for another seven cancer-causing chemicals – with the ultimate aim of improving workplace health while setting clear objectives for enforcement agencies and employers alike in order to avoid penalties.
  • Help businesses, (particularly small and micro), to comply with OHS regulations.

Research has revealed that 1 in 3 micro enterprises fail to assess workplace risks. Taking immediate measures to address this, a guidance paper for employers with practical tips has been published. With ‘how-to’s’ on risk assessment and outlining ways to make it more effective, it also addresses rapidly increasing OSH risks including psychosocial, ergonomic or ageing related-risks. The EC also intends to increase the availability of free online tools for the small business.

Furthermore, the Commission will work with Member States and social partners to remove or update outdated regulations within a two-year timeframe to simplify/reduce administrative burden, while maintaining workers' protection. It is anticipated that better enforcement will also be supported.

The review of EU OSH legislation and the changes to the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive comes as part of the on-going work on a European Pillar of Social Rights,  aimed at adapting EU legislation to changing work patterns and society in general.

Consultations and debates as part of this process have re-affirmed the importance of OHS and placed emphasis on prevention as well as enforcement, while they also form part of the Regulatory Fitness and Performance Program (REFIT) exercise to make EU legislation simpler, more relevant and effective.


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