EU strategy for occupational safety: Risks from digital and ecological changes on the radar.

 Social partners should contribute to solutions – Commission learns lessons from the pandemic.

EU strategy for occupational safety: Risks from digital and ecological changes on the radar.

The EU commission intends to revise occupational safety regulations and include new risks arising from the digital, ecological and demographic changes. The investments pay off for people, society and also for employers, provided that these do not give rise to new bureaucratic monsters.

Even though significant progress has been made in recent decades, there is still a lot left to do. In 2018, the number of fatal work-related accidents had decreased by 70% compared to 1994. Nevertheless, there were 3,300 accidents with fatal consequences. And every year more than 200,000 employees die from work-related illnesses. That is why the EU Commission published the new “EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2021-2027” on June 28, 2021. In this document they outline the guidelines for developing occupational health and safety regulations for the approximately 170 million employees in the EU and member states. The commission has defined the following key goals:

  1. Preparing and shaping digital, ecological and demographic changes
    The Commission will revise the Workplace directive and the Directive for display screen equipment and update the thresholds for asbestos, lead and cobalt. An initiative on the EU level for mental health in the workplace is planned in collaboration with the member states and social partners. The social partners are encouraged to find solutions for the challenges of the new working world. This includes questions arising from digitalization and new technologies such as with regard to constant availability, mobile work or a new human-machine interfaces.
  2. Vision Zero: better protection against occupational accidents and occupational illnesses
    The number of fatal work-related accidents should be reduced to zero, in part through the analysis of the reasons, and also by establishing a prevention culture at companies and among employees. In consultation with the social partners, the commission intends to update the EU regulations regarding dangerous substances to combat cancer and respiratory illnesses.
  3. Lessons from the pandemic: better protection against future health risks
    In future, the EU intends to be better prepared for a pandemic. That is why emergency procedures and guidelines will be developed to rapidly introduce, execute and monitor specific measures. The member states have been requested to update the national occupational health and safety strategies in view of the experience with the Covid pandemic.

Every euro invested pays off twice
According to the Executive Vice President, Valdis Dombrovskis, not only the employees but also society as a whole and the companies themselves benefit from improved occupational health and safety due to the lower subsequent costs: On page 2 of its strategy paper, the EU Commission points out that every euro invested in occupational health and safety pays off at least twice for employers.

The Covid pandemic has highlighted the major importance of prevention and protection against future health risks for the economy and society. As such, it makes sense to draw on this experience now to create emergency plans and guidelines for rapid countermeasures. Better prevention is just as desirable as the analysis of the digital, demographic and ecological changes with a view toward occupational health and safety. To ensure practical solutions instead of new bureaucratic monsters,it makes sense to involve social partners and organizations in early stage when developing proposals. The commission explicitly encourages this.