EU OSH Strategic framework

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Introduction

In the European Union, multi-annual strategies on occupational safety and health (OSH) are used to develop the EU policy on OSH and coordinate the national policies of the Member States. The OSH strategy identifies priorities, common objectives and provides a framework for coordinating actions throughout the EU. The OSH strategic framework is formally endorsed by the European Commission after consultation and is voluntarily implemented by Member States and stakeholders[1]. The first Community strategy dates from 2002. The current strategic framework covers the period 2021-2027.

Background

Improving occupational health and safety is a key area of interest for the EU since the 1980s. The adoption of the Single European Act in 1987 brought OSH into the EEC Treaty for the first time and allowed the Council to adopt directives on health and safety at work[2]. Following this, the Framework Directive 89/391/EEC on OSH [8] was issued in 1989. The directive establishes the basis for the OSH legislation in the EU. The directive contains provisions on the responsibilities of employers, defines key elements such as risk assessment and requires information and participation of workers. Based on the Framework directive, several daughter directives have been issued, e.g. on workplaces, chemical agents and manual handling.

In 2000 the European community adopted the European Social Agenda allowing a more strategic approach of social issues including health and safety at work. This resulted in the first community strategy on health and safety at work in 2002. Other strategic programmes followed in 2007, 2014 and 2021[3]. The table below provides an overview of the key points of each of these programmes.

Table – Overview of the Strategic framework programmes on OSH

Strategic framework Key points
The Community Strategy on Health and Safety at Work 2002-2006: Adapting to change in work and society [9] The strategy adopts a global approach to well-being at work, taking account of changes in the world of work and the emergence of new risks, especially of a psycho-social nature. It is based on consolidating a culture of risk prevention, on combining a variety of instruments (legislation, social dialogue, best practices, economic incentives) and on building partnerships between all the players on the safety and health scene.
Community Strategy on Health and Safety at Work 2007-2012:  Improving quality and productivity at work [10] The Strategy aimed for a 25 % reduction in the total incidence rate of accidents at work by 2012 in EU-27 by improving health and safety protection for workers. To achieve this goal, the strategy proposed instruments such as the proper implementation of EU legislation, supporting SMEs, promoting the development of national strategies and developing methods for identifying emerging risks.
The Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2014-2020 [11] The Strategic Framework identifies 3 main challenges:

- the improvement of the implementation of existing health and safety rules;

- the prevention of work-related diseases by tackling new and emerging risks without neglecting existing risks;

- the ageing of the EU's workforce.

To meet these challenges, the strategic framework putted forward instruments such as further consolidating national health and safety strategies, providing practical support to SMEs, simplifying existing legislation where appropriate, improving statistical data collection to have better evidence and developing monitoring tools.

The Strategic Framework on health and safety at work 2021-2027 [12] The strategic framework focuses on three crosscutting key objectives:

- anticipating and managing change in the new world of work brought about by the green, digital and demographic transitions;

- improving prevention of workplace accidents and illnesses;

- increasing preparedness for any potential future health crises.

The implementation of these three objectives will be underpinned by: social dialogue; strengthening of the evidence base; strengthening of enforcement; awareness-raising; and funding.

Strategic Framework on health and safety at work 2021-2027

The Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2021-2027 defines the key priorities and actions for improving workers’ health and safety, addressing rapid changes in the economy, demography and work patterns.

Preparation

The strategic framework builds on a stocktaking exercise of the achievements in the implementation of the EU strategic framework on health and safety at work 2014-2020. The stocktaking exercise consisted mainly of a study carried out during 2020-2021[4] and a broad consultation round of OSH stakeholders[5]. The stocktaking exercise showed the added value of the strategic framework for the EU. There is clear evidence that the EU strategic framework has contributed to significant progress on improving OSH culture within the EU. It also identified a number of challenges linked to shorter-term implementation of the strategic framework in light of resource constraints in Member States; the need to increase focus on occupational diseases, demographic change, psychosocial risks and musculoskeletal disorders; and the need to help both labour inspectorates and companies improve their OSH standards[6].

Three key objectives

The preparatory work for the strategic framework 2021-2027 revealed that most of the priorities of the previous framework still remain relevant. However, further OSH action in the EU is needed to make the workplaces fit for the increasingly rapid changes in the economy, demography, work patterns, and society at large. The COVID-19 pandemic has accentuated these complexities and made OSH and public health policy more inter-related than ever before.

The strategic framework therefore focuses on three crosscutting key objectives (figure 1)[7]:

  • anticipating and managing change in the new world of work brought about by the green, digital and demographic transitions;
  • improving prevention of workplace accidents and illnesses;
  • increasing preparedness for any potential future health crises.

Figure 1 – The three cross-cutting key objectives of the strategic framework on OSH 2021-2027

Strategy.jpg

Source: Strategic framework 2021-2027 [7]

Anticipating and managing change

The nature of many tasks, work patterns and workplaces is changing. In addition, demographic change due to an ageing working population in Europe requires constant attention and an adapted approach. Climate change may also affect the safety and health of workers, including higher ambient temperatures, air pollution and extreme weather conditions. Technological advances certainly offer new opportunities for workers, but they also present several challenges, both in terms of the increased irregularity of the time and place of work and the risks associated with new tools and machines.

The EU Commission announces several actions to anticipate and manage change including:

  • modernising the OSH legislative framework related to digitalisation by reviewing the directive 89/654/EEC concerning the minimum safety and health requirements for the workplace [13] and the directive 90/270/EEC on the minimum safety and health requirements for work with display screen equipment [14];
  • introducing lower occupational exposure limit values on asbestos, lead, diisocyanates and cobalt;
  • launching an EU-OSHA healthy workplaces campaign 2023-2025 [15] on creating a safe and healthy digital future focusing on psychosocial and ergonomic risks.
  • in cooperation with Member States and social partners, preparing a non-legislative EU-level initiative related to mental health at work;
  • developing e-tools and guidance for risk assessments related to green and digital jobs and processes[7].

Improving prevention of work-related diseases and accidents

The strategic framework emphasises that all efforts must be deployed to reduce work-related deaths as much as possible, in line with a Vision Zero approach to work-related deaths. Actions to support these efforts include:

  • improving data collection on accidents at work and occupational diseases, and analysing the root causes for each work-related death or injury;
  • developing targeted information actions and tools to increase awareness;
  • strengthening enforcement by supporting the Senior Labour Inspectors’ Committee (SLIC) in increasing awareness on reducing work-related deaths at company level, sharing good practices, and supporting increased training for labour inspectorates.

At the same time, the EU commission will also update the EU rules on hazardous substances to combat cancer, reproductive, and respiratory diseases[7].

Increasing preparedness for any potential future health crises

The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the importance of a general obligation for risk assessment and preventive measures by the employer to address health risks to workers in the event of a health crisis. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, EU-OSHA, in consultation with national authorities and social partners, has developed guidelines and tools to support employers in developing prevention measures in the workplace COVID-19: guidance for the workplace .

In the strategic framework the EU Commission announces concrete actions such as

  • the launch of an in-depth assessment of the effects of the pandemic and the efficiency of the EU and national OSH frameworks to 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;
  • the update of the Commission Recommendation on occupational diseases to include COVID-19;
  • the development of guidance for labour inspectors on assessing the quality of risk assessments and risk-management measures under the directive 2000/54/EC on the protection of workers from risks related to exposure to biological agents at work [16] .[7]

Implementation

The strategic framework not only includes actions that are undertaken by the Commission but also calls on Member States and stakeholders to develop targeted actions that fit within the strategic framework and will enhance efforts by combining and coordinating resources.

The success of the framework depends on its implementation at EU, national, sectoral and enterprise levels, with effective enforcement, social dialogue, funding, awareness-raising and data collection being key. Through its extensive network of partners, EU-OSHA is well placed to facilitate action, cooperation and exchange, and deliver on the ambitions of the framework.

References

  1. Ponce Del Castillo, A.,  Occupational safety and health in the EU: back to basics, in Social policy in the European Union: state of play 2016. ETUI, 17th annual report. Available at: [1]
  2. European Parliament, Health and Safety at Work, Factsheets on the European Union, 2021. Available at: [2]
  3. EU Commission, DG Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion, Health and safety at work. Retrieved 9 March 2022 from [3]
  4. EU Commission, Study to support the evaluation of the EU Strategic Framework on health and safety at work 2014-2020. Available at: [4]
  5. EU Commission, Stakeholder consultation – Synopsis report Accompanying the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of Regions EU strategic framework on health and safety at work 2021-2027, Commission Staff Working Document, SWD(2021) 149 final. Available at: [5]
  6. EU Commission, Commission Staff Working Document Accompanying the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of Regions EU strategic framework on health and safety at work 2021-2027, Occupational safety and health in a changing world of work, SWD(2021) 148 final. Available at: [6]
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2021-2027. Available at: [7]

Links for further reading

EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2021-2027. Available at: [17]

EU Commission, DG Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion, Occupational safety and health in a changing world of work, News 28-06-2021. Retrieved 9 March 2022 from [18]