Health & Safety at Work: Strategy

The current EU strategy for occupational health and safety remains "broadly fit for purpose" despite the impact of the financial and economic crisis.

Furthermore, existing legislation must be simplified and updated, in particular by a new proposal for a Directive on ergonomics and work related musculoskeletal disorders.

These were some of the major findings of the Commission's mid-term review of the Community Strategy on Health and Safety at Work for the period 2007-2012, which was published on 27 April 2011.

The review focuses on the main achievements and problems encountered in the implementation of the Strategy, and aims to provide the basis for the preparation of a new Health and Safety strategy for the period 2013-2020.

Health and Safety Strategy 2007-2012

The overall objective of the EU strategy on occupational health 2007-2012 is to reduce the number of occupational accidents as well as reducing absenteeism due to poor health of workers. The strategy combines the following initiatives: 
• Guaranteeing proper implementation of EU legislation
• Supporting SMEs in the implementation of existing legislation
• Updating, adapting and simplifying existing legislation, particularly for SMEs
• Encouraging changes in behaviour of workers and encourage employers to adopt more health-focused approaches
• Promoting the development of national strategies
• Creating methods for identifying and evaluating potential new risks
• Promoting health and safety at the international level
• Improving the tracking of progress in the implementation of health and safety legislation

The strategy also sets a quantitative target to reduce the rate of accidents at work by 25% per 100,000 workers in the 27 Member States of the EU.

Assessment

The mid-term review is unable to fully assess whether the Strategy is meeting the quantitative target of reducing accidents by 25% because some data will only be available in 2012. However, trends for 2007-2009 do show reduced rates of accidents in 15 Member States and an increase in only three.

The Commission stresses however that improving systems, structures and procedures for occupational health and safety strategies are more important than meeting quantitative targets.

Legislative framework

The mid-term review notes that all EU Directives in the field of health and safety were transposed in the Member States by the end of 2009, with only a small number of infringement proceedings for non-conformity. Furthermore, the Commission and Advisory Committee on Safety and Health at Work (ACSH) have developed or are developing guidelines to help the implementation of the Directives.

The Commission also notes that Member States have also launched a series of initiatives to improve compliance with health and safety legislation.

At national level, the review notes that the combination of on-site and system inspection methods in the majority of Member States has been successful, as well as the existence in most of the Member States of regular evaluations of occupational health and safety inspection work plans and training programmes for inspectors. However, the number of occupational health and safety inspectors is largely insufficient, with only nine Member States having more than ten inspectors per 100,000 workers.

The mid-term review also highlights the progress made in the simplification of existing legislation, particularly the third list of indicative occupational exposure limit values in 2009 and the adoption of a Council Directive in 2010 on the Framework Agreement on the prevention of sharp injuries in the hospital and healthcare sector.

The Commission also notes progress to simplify health and safety legislation in the Member States, particularly in regards to cost reduction measures undertaken in Austria and Finland.

Development of national strategies

The mid-term review reports that the vast majority of Member States had adopted a national strategy on occupational health and safety, with a large majority also having developed a formal evaluation procedure for the strategy. The Commission considers that the development of performance indicators for framing, monitoring and reviewing the effectiveness of national strategies to be of particular importance.

Promoting changes in behaviour

The Commission states in the mid-term review that it is considering following-up efforts to include occupational health and safety issues in education systems during the second phase of the implementation of the EU Health Safety Strategy.

However at national level, despite a number of initiatives launched by the Member States, the mid-term review cannot be sure that such initiatives are a direct result of the EU health and safety strategy. The Commission does however support these initiatives and considers that performance indicators should be developed to monitor them.

International Level

The mid-term review notes that EU policy in the area of health and safety is increasingly recognised by international partners. The review notes that there is increased bilateral cooperation on occupational health and safety issues with partners from emerging economies such as China and India, as well as those through EU neighbourhood policy such as Ukraine.

The review also notes that the Commission and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) have increased their cooperation on a wide range of occupational health and safety issues, including the promotion of ILO standards and the approval of Agreement on the Maritime Labour Convention.

Conclusions and future actions

The mid-term review concludes that the Strategy is “broadly fit for purpose”, despite the economic crisis. It supports the continuation of the existing strategy based upon its three-tiered approach of a legal framework setting binding minimum requirements for all Member States, the involvement of social partners at all levels and a strategy promoting a preventative culture.

New proposals

The Commission states that it is considering further action with regards to work-related stress, to improve implementation of the social partner agreement. Proposals to tackle specific emerging risks identified in the strategy are being prepared. These include:
• a revision of the electromagnetic fields Directive 
• a proposal on ergonomics and work-related musculoskeletal disorders
• a possible proposal carcinogens
• a possible initiative on protecting workers from environmental tobacco smoke
• a proposal to align health and safety Directives with the new Regulation on the classification labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures

The Commission is also considering non-binding measures in regards to occupational health and safety issues.

Common EU Monitoring

The Commission considers that the second phase of the implementation of the strategy will help the development of a structured and commonly accepted monitoring tool for the evaluation of future EU occupational health strategies to be implemented by the Member States.

The aim of creating a commonly accepted monitoring tool would help towards aligning future EU and national objectives and priorities. This will require reliable indictors to monitor the implementation of national strategies in regards to the EU strategy. The Commission also wants such indicators to take into consideration structural and systemic objectives as well as hazard and related objectives.

Next Steps

The mid-term review has been sent to the European Parliament and the Council for examination and either or both of these institutions may decide to formally respond to it.

The mid-term review also notes that future priorities will also depend on the progress made in the implementation of the current strategy for the period 2007-2012.  The Commission is expected to launch a wide-ranging consultation on the priorities for the new EU occupational health and safety strategy in the second half of 2011 and continue into 2012. The consultation will be used to prepare the outline of the future strategy by identifying the priorities of the new strategy to be adopted in 2013.