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Health and Safety at Work: new EU Strategic Framework 2014-2020 - frequently asked questions

European Commission - MEMO/14/400   06/06/2014

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European Commission

MEMO

Brussels, 6 June 2014

Health and Safety at Work: new EU Strategic Framework 2014-2020 - frequently asked questions

See also IP/14/641

Today, the European Commission has adopted an EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2014-2020. The Framework follows the a previous EU Occupational Health and Safety Strategy 2007-2012, and takes into account the results of its evaluation and contributions from a wide range of stakeholders, including worker’s and employer’s representatives, as well as the discussions held during the major Conference on Working Conditions organized by the Commission in Brussels on 28 April 2014.

How common are accidents at work, and what is their cost?

Every year more than 4,000 workers die due to accidents at work and more than three million workers are victims of a serious accident at work leading to an absence from work of more than three days, according to a report by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (OSHA). Moreover, 24.2% of workers consider that their health and safety is at risk because of their work, and 25 % declared that work had a mainly negative effect on their health, according to the European Working Conditions Survey.

In addition to human suffering, the costs due to work-related sick leave are unacceptably high. In Germany, 460 million days’ sick‑leave per year resulted in an estimated loss of productivity of 3.1 % of GDP, according to the Safety and Health at Work report by Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA) and the German Labour Ministry.

Costs for social security attributable to sickness or accidents are also very high. For example, in the UK the net cost to government in the 2010/11 fiscal year was estimated at £2381 million, according to a report drafted by the UK's Health and Safety Executive.

How satisfied are EU workers with their working conditions?

According to a recent Eurobarometer survey, a large majority of workers express satisfaction with workplace health and safety in their current job (85%) and over three quarters (77%) say that workplace health and safety information and/or training is available in their workplace. However, just over half of European workers consider working conditions in their country to be good (53%), and a majority (57%) think that their working conditions have deteriorated in the last 5 years. Although most workers are satisfied with their own working conditions (77% on average in the EU), there is a very wide disparity across Member States, ranging from 94% in Denmark to 38% in Greece (see IP/14/467).

What are the benefits of investing in risk prevention?

Preventing risks and promoting safer and healthier working conditions contributes to the well-being and health of workers, but also improves companies' productivity and competitiveness. Investing in occupational safety and health yields positive results. For example a report on the socio-economic costs of accidents at work and work-related ill health showed that each euro invested in prevention produces a return in profits in a range between 1.29 and 2.89.

Moreover, sound occupational health and safety rules contribute to improving the sustainability of social security systems and to addressing the long-term effects of demographic ageing. Investing in health and safety benefits both companies and workers.

Why do we need a strategy at EU level?

As risks to workers’ health and safety are broadly similar across the EU, there is a clear role for the Union in helping Member States to address such risks more efficiently and in ensuring a level playing‑field throughout the EU.

EU strategies identify priorities and common objectives, provide a framework for coordinating national policies and promote a holistic culture of prevention, as supported by the stakeholders.

What are the achievements of the previous strategies?

The improvements achieved in the EU’s performance on occupational health and safety over the last 25 years can be attributed to a large extent to the comprehensive legislation and policy actions launched and implemented by the EU, Member States and stakeholders such as worker and employer representatives.

The 2007-2012 EU Strategy on health and safety at work provided a common framework for coordination and a sense of direction. 27 Member States now have a national strategy, adapted to the national context and key priority areas. The awareness-raising initiatives carried out at EU and national levels have contributed to strengthening a culture of risk prevention.

The evaluation of the 2007-12 EU strategy on health and safety at work confirmed its overall effectiveness and that its main objectives were achieved. However, implementation continues to be a challenge, in particular for micro and small companies, which have difficulties in complying with some regulatory requirements. This is one of the issues addressed in the 2014-2020 Strategic Framework.

How successful was the previous strategy in reducing the number of accidents in the EU?

The 2007-2012 EU Occupational Health and Safety Strategy was successful, in particular, in helping to reduce by 27.9% the number of work accidents leading to absences of more than three days in the EU.

What are the results of the public consultation carried in 2013?

The Commission launched a public consultation in 2013 to gather suggestions and contributions in the field of health and safety at work (see IP/13/491). The consultation received 523 replies from a broad set of stakeholders.

The results, published today, show that a large majority of stakeholders consider it necessary to continue coordinating occupational health and safety policies at EU level, with a 75% of respondents advocating for a new EU Strategic Framework as an appropriate tool to improve workplace safety and health.

When asked why a EU Framework is necessary, respondents cited the need to ensure similar standards and workers' protection in all EU Member States; a level playing field for Europe's businesses; and to help Member States to set a focus in their workplace health and safety policies.

Respondents suggested that the EU framework should address the following issues:

  • optimising the existing legislative framework

  • giving more focus on occupational health and workers' wellbeing; on new and emerging risks and on vulnerable workers (e.g. young, older, women, workers with chronic health problems, workers in precarious working conditions etc.)

  • improving monitoring (statistical) tools to follow-up on progress made

  • raising awareness and disseminating information

  • strengthening a holistic and integrated prevention approach (e.g. through better promotion of health at work better reintegration of injured workers into the workforce)

  • promoting social dialogue

  • encouraging coordination between national health and safety bodies

  • ensuring the availability of EU funds to improve health and safety conditions.

A large majority of respondents considered social dialogue as one of the most important instruments for the definition, implementation and monitoring of occupational health and safety policy at both national and EU level.

How is the OiRA platform useful for small and medium businesses?

The Online interactive Risk Assessment (OiRA) is a web based platform, developed and maintained by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, that enables the creation of sectoral risk assessment tools in any language in an easy and standardised way. It already covers several sectors and professional activities such as hairdressers, leather and tanning, private security, and is continuously developing.

OiRA platform allows building easy-to-use and cost-free online tools that can help micro and small organisations to put in place a step-by-step risk assessment process – starting with the identification and evaluation of workplace risks, through to the decision making and implementation of preventative actions, to monitoring and reporting.

What EU funding is available to support Health and Safety at work?

EU funds, such as the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Employment and Social Innovation (EaSI) programme, are available to support actions related to the implementation of health and safety provisions.

For the 2014-2020 programming period, ESF funding will be available to support actions aiming to promote sustainable, quality employment and social inclusion, such as measures to promote a healthy environment and well-being at work. In addition, the operational programme Employment and Social Innovation (EaSI) will be used to support actions to promote cooperation, communication and gathering of expertise in this area.

How would the Strategic Framework be implemented?

The Commission, the Member States, worker and employer representatives – in particular in the context of the Advisory Committee on Safety an and Health at Work- and other European bodies, such as the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, would have a relevant play to role in the implementation of the new EU Strategic Framework.

The Commission will ensure monitoring of the implementation of the Framework, which is due to be reviewed in 2016 to take into account the results of its implementation, of the on-going comprehensive evaluation of the EU occupational health and safety at work Directives and of the review of the Europe 2020 Strategy.

What has the EU achieved in the field of safety and health at work beyond strategies?

An important body of EU legislation- more than 25 EU Directives - built up over more than 25 years is in place to protect workers’ health and safety, aiming at establishing a consistent minimum level of protection for all European workers. This regulatory framework, continuously improved and adapted to cope with new socio-economic, technical and scientific changes, is the EU’s primary instrument to guarantee minimum protection standards for EU workers.

Recent EU legislative measures were for example adopted on a third list of indicative occupational exposure limit values for chemical agents (Directive 2009/161/EU), the protection of workers against electromagnetic fields (Directive 2013/35/EU, see IP/13/600), and the alignment of several Directives on classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures (Directive 2014/27/EU, see IP/14/178).

Work on a comprehensive review of EU health and safety at work Directives is on-going under a new five-yearly exercise covering the period 2007-2012 and the results of this evaluation are expected for end 2015. It aims at a wide evaluation of the legislation including in terms of benefits, of research and new scientific knowledge, with a special focus on SMEs. The results may lead to initiatives to improve the operation of the regulatory framework.

On 7 April 2014, the European Agency for Safety at Health at Work (EU-OSHA) launched the "Healthy Workplaces Manage Stress" campaign to raise awareness about the psychological, physical and social risks linked to stress at work (see IP/14/386).

What is being done to simplify legislation and to reduce implementation costs for small companies?

The Commission is reviewing the existing legislation in order to assess whether it is fit for purpose, examining how to improve its implementation, and ensure better, effective and equivalent compliance across Member States and enterprises.

As part of the comprehensive evaluation of the whole body of EU occupational health and safety legislation, the Member States recently submitted to the Commission their national reports on the implementation of 24 occupational health and safety Directives. The Commission is currently analysing the national implementation reports which will feed into the evaluation. The evaluation will pay particular attention to identifying possible simplifications and/or reductions in administrative burden, particularly for micro and small enterprises, while preserving a high level of protection for workers’ health and safety. This process is relevant not just to EU law but also to national legal and administrative provisions that implement EU law. Member States are therefore encouraged to carry out a similar exercise in parallel. The evaluation results, which will be available in 2015, will be taken into account as part of the 2016 review of the Strategic Framework.

Furthermore, the Commission carries out systematic stakeholder consultations and impact assessments for new initiatives in the social and employment field, taking into account the interests of small and medium-sized businesses.

What are the next steps for the EU Strategic Framework?

The proposal will now be transmitted to the European Parliament, the EU's Council of Ministers, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions.


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