European Commission’s new health and safety strategy 'weak and insubstantial'

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The European Commission has released its strategic framework for driving improvements in health and safety across the union over the next six years, a move described by critics as “too weak and too late”.

The draft 2014-2020 framework, which is now to be to be scrutinised by the EU parliament and the council of ministers, outlines three major challenges the political bloc must tackle if it is to improve health and safety, namely: improving prevention of work-related disease; taking account of the EU’s ageing workforce; and improving the implementation of existing laws.

But the European Trade Union Confederation criticised the strategy, published almost two years after the previous strategy ended, labelling it “weak and insubstantial” and lamenting what it sees as “no concrete proposal for action”.

László Andor, commissioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion, told a press conference: “This new strategic framework on health and safety at work for the 2014-2020 period aims to contribute to improving job quality and job satisfaction, while improving the competitiveness and productivity of European companies, especially small businesses, reducing costs for companies and improving the sustainability of social security systems.

“I am convinced that this new health and safety framework will bring significant improvements to people's working conditions, to the benefit of European workers and companies, and the European economy as a whole.”

The strategy, launched on 6 June, outlines seven strategic objectives for tackling these challenges, which, should the framework be ratified, will be formed into actions for members states:

  • Further consolidating national health and safety strategies through activities such as policy coordination and mutual learning
  • Providing practical support to small and micro enterprises to help them to better comply with health and safety laws
  • Improving enforcement of the law by member states by, for example, evaluating the performance of national labour inspectorates
  • Simplifying existing legislation where appropriate to eliminate unnecessary administrative burdens
  • Improving prevention of work-related diseases to tackle existing and new risks such as nanomaterials, green technology and biotechnologies
  • Improving statistical data collection
  • Reinforcing coordination with international organisations, such as the International Labour Organisation and the World Health Organisation.

The EU has over 217m workers, and every year more than 3 million are victims of a serious accident at work and 4,000 die in the workplace.

The strategic framework identifies a series of instruments to implement these actions, including social dialogue, awareness raising and synergies with other policy areas such as public health and education.

Andor added: “This new framework sets out concrete actions to address these challenges and thus to ensure healthier and safer working conditions across the EU.

“For example, by building the capacity of national labour inspectors in order to improve effective enforcement of health and safety legislation. We will support the implementation of health and safety rules by micro and small companies, for example by a web platform providing risk-assessment tools, while continuing simplification of the legislation to eliminate unnecessary administrative burdens.

“This framework also points out that worker and employer representatives have a crucially important role to play in both developing new health and safety measures and ensuring their effective implementation in practice.”

But employee representatives weren’t convinced. A statement released by the ETUC said the strategy should have committed to improving legislation to tackle the challenges it identifies.

Józef Niemiec, the ETUC’s deputy general secretary, said: “The ETUC has been waiting for years for this health and safety strategy, and we are disappointed it is weak and insubstantial. It contains no concrete proposal for action, and no specific improvements to health and safety.

“The strategy proposes to treat health and safety as part of REFIT programme of cutting so-called red-tape. Workers’ safety is not a bureaucratic burden.”

In October last year the Commission announced it would be shelving proposed directives on musculo-skeletal disorders, health and safety in hairdressing, environmental tobacco smoke and carcinogens and mutagens.

The move was announced as part of its REFIT programme designed to make EU regulation “fit for purpose”. It also announced a “full evaluation” of the entirety of EU health and safety legislation – the Framework Directive and its 23 related directives – would be undertaken with a view to simplifying it.

A Commission spokesperson speaking at the time said the review will be finished before the Commission’s term in power ends in October 2014, when the proposals will be put to the European council and parliament for a decision on implementation. 



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