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Community strategy on health and safety at work (2007-2012)
Workplace accidents and work-related illnesses are very costly in not only human but also economic terms. The Commission's strategy aims for a 25 % reduction in the total incidence rate of accidents at work by 2012.
Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions of 21 February 2007, entitled 'Improving quality and productivity at work: Community strategy 2007-2012 on health and safety at work' [COM(2007) 62 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
Good health at work helps improve public health in general and also the productivity and competitiveness of businesses. Furthermore, workplace problems of health and safety exact a high cost for social protection systems and therefore workers need to be provided with suitable working conditions if their general wellbeing is to be enhanced.
The Community's current strategy on workplace health and safety is a continuation of its strategy for 2002-2006. The previous strategy has already borne fruit: workplace accidents have been markedly fewer in number. The new 2007-2012 strategy, which is even more ambitious, is focusing on achieving a 25 % reduction in the total incidence rate of accidents at work and, in order to achieve its goal, the Commission has established six intermediate objectives, which are summarised below.
Putting in place a modern and effective legislative framework
There are sometimes serious shortcomings in the application of Community legislation on workplace health and safety. The Commission will ensure that Community directives are transposed properly (if necessary, infringement proceedings will be launched). The Commission also draws the attention of the Member States to their obligation to implement Community legislation, for which they have several methods at their disposal, e.g. training, dissemination of information, involvement of labour inspectors or use of economic incentives.
Community legislation should not only be more effectively implemented but also be applied in a uniform manner in all the Member States in order to guarantee equivalent levels of protection to all European workers. At Community level, the Senior Labour Inspectors' Committee (SLIC) will be working to develop mechanisms whereby common solutions can be found to problems specific to several Member States. The Committee will also be responsible for promoting cooperation between labour inspectorates.
In terms of worker protection, it is also essential to adapt the legal framework to changes in the world of work and to the latest technical advances. The Commission proposes to examine, for example, the possibility of launching initiatives to assess the musculo-skeletal risks involved in certain occupations and to investigate areas where carcinogens might be in use.
When all is said and done, any adaptation of the legal framework must also make that framework less complex and more effective. The Commission emphasises that simplified legislation should not lead to a reduction in existing levels of protection.
Encouraging the development and implementation of national strategies
The Commission invites the Member States to define and to adopt national strategies that are coherent with Community strategy and to establish quantitative objectives to be achieved within that context. The Commission proposes that the Member States pay particular attention to four areas:
- prevention and health surveillance;
- rehabilitation and reintegration of workers;
- responses to social and demographic change (the ageing of the population, younger workers);
- coordination between, on the one hand, policies on health and safety at work and, on the other, policies on public health, regional development and social cohesion, public procurement, employment and restructuring.
Promoting changes in behaviour
Changes in behaviour should be encouraged at all levels from primary school through to the world of work. The Commission calls upon the Member States to make wider use of the potential offered by the European Social Fund and other Community funds with a view to incorporating health and safety into education and training programmes. The raising of awareness within companies can be promoted through direct or indirect financial incentives, such as reductions in social contributions or insurance premiums, or increases in economic aid.
Confronting new and increasing risks
It is essential to step up scientific research in order to be able to anticipate, identify and respond to new workplace health and safety risks. At Community level, research in the areas of workplace health and safety is supported by the 7th framework programme for research and technological development. At national level, the Commission encourages Member States to coordinate their research programmes.
Depression is, at the present time, an increasingly important cause of incapacity for work. Mental health should be promoted in the workplace, e.g. by stepping up initiatives aimed at preventing violence and harassment in the workplace or combating stress.
Improving measurement of progress made
The Commission will ensure that statistics and information on national strategies are collected and that qualitative indicators are developed to enhance knowledge of progress achieved in the areas of health and safety at work.
Promoting health and safety at international level
The European Union is seeking to raise labour standards worldwide and will endeavour to increase its cooperation with third countries and with international organisations such as the International Labour Organisation (ILO) or the World Health Organisation (WHO). For example, it aims to promote implementation of the global strategy on occupational safety and health , adopted by the ILO in 2003, ratification of the promotional framework for occupational safety and health convention , adopted in 2006, and the banning of asbestos.