The European Commission recently presented a new initiative to better protect over 217 million workers in the EU from work-related accidents and diseases. The Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2014-2020 identifies key challenges and strategic objectives for health and safety at work, presents fundamental actions and identifies crucial instruments to address these standards. It is the latest initiative in the EUs efforts regarding Occupational Safety and Health (OSH), which has been pursued over the years within a strategic policy framework. Such competence is provided to the EU by the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) so it can adopt directives to improve the working environment.
Workers’ health has a great impact on business. Keeping workers healthy allows them to work longer and without leave due to illness or accident. Thus, it is all the more relevant when it comes to productivity. Moreover, it has an impact on the Member State’s economy. Fewer illnesses and accidents would allow the Member States to save millions and, therefore, social security systems would be more sustainable.
The Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work identifies three main challenges or areas of focus:
- improving the implementation record of Member States, focused on micro and small enterprises which lack the capacity to carry out effective and efficient risk prevention measures;
- improving the prevention of work-related diseases by tackling existing, new and emerging risks; and
- tackling demographic change since the EU’s workforce is ageing.
The Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work also sets out seven key strategic objectives:
- Further consolidate national strategies. Through policy coordination, mutual learning and the use of EU funding.
- Facilitate compliance with OSH legislation, particularly by micro and small enterprises. SMEs face difficulties in complying with the regulatory requirements in this area. Therefore, it is necessary to improve quality of guidance and provide practical tools to facilitate compliance with OSH legislation.
- Better enforcement of OSH legislation by Member States. Many companies do not even know that they have to observe OSH legislation due to a lack of legal advice. Thus, such companies do not implement the OSH legislation. As a result, there are many gaps in awareness that need to be addressed in a systematic way.
- Simplify existing legislation. There are unnecessary administrative burdens that have to be observed. In this sense, the Commission with other EU institutions and Member States, will implement efforts to simplify EU legislation and eliminate such administrative burdens. This process is relevant not just to EU law, but also to national legal and administrative provisions that transpose EU law.
- Address the ageing of the workforce, emerging new risks, prevention of work-related and occupational diseases. It is necessary to discover ways to promote the physical and psychological health of older workers.
- Improve statistical data collection and develop the information base. It is important for evidence-based policy making to collect reliable, timely and comparable statistical data on workrelated accidents and diseases, occupational exposures, work-related ill-health, and to analyse the costs and benefits in the area of OSH.
- Better coordinate EU and international efforts to address OSH and engage with international organizations. The EU is going to work together with the ILO, in particular, and other specialised organizations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), to achieve better results within and especially outside the EU.
Finally, the Strategic Framework identifies a variety of instruments to carry out these actions: legislation, EU funds, such as the European Social Found (ESF) and other European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF), social dialogue, communication and information, such as the internet, online applications and social networks, and synergies with other policy areas, such as education, public health, research or environment. All of these instruments are available to support the implementation of health and safety rules.
The implementation of this strategic framework will run parallel with the ex-post evaluations of EU OSH legislation, which is expected to produce conclusions by the end of 2015. The current strategic framework will be reviewed in 2016.
This is important for employers, because as a result of this initiative, laws throughout Europe are going to change and it will be necessary to know what the new legislation is in order to comply with such rules and to avoid sanctions, as there will likely be an increase of inspections. Further, administrative burdens are going to be lighter and employers should be aware of what exactly they need to do, so they do not waste time and resources.
In order to prepare for these new directives, employers should follow these updates carefully and adapt to the necessary changes that may occur. They should also take into account the health and safety legislation and make efforts to comply with it, as their workers’ health will have a significant impact on their productivity and thus their businesses.
To conclude, this is an initiative which is still in an embryonic stage. Currently, there are no immediate changes that will impact day-to-day business affairs. However, this is a real statement of intent from the EU and thus, sooner rather than later, these changes will come and employers must be ready. These changes will not only occur in EU legislation, but also in the national law of each European country, since they have to transpose the European Directives.