Legal framework is lacking with regard to new forms of work.

SW – 10/2019

This is the conclusion of a report on health and safety in the workplace of the future commissioned by the European Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs.

The report is based on recent scientific research and reports by policy makers. It identifies future risks to the physical and mental health and safety of workers that could result from technology-driven changes in the workplace, such as: 

  • Changes to working conditions in the workplace resulting from automation and robotics, digitalisation, and new types of working environments such as virtual reality and augmented reality; the use of algorithms; and surveillance technologies to monitor worker behaviour in the workplace.
  • Changes in the organisation and delivery of work with a focus on bogus self-employment, zero-hours/non-guaranteed minimum hours contracts, the gig economy, platform work and telework.
  • Other health and safety risks.

The report identifies gaps in the existing European legislation on health and safety at work and ways in which these could be filled. It concludes that many of the European Union’s 24 OSH Directives and Directive 2003/88/EC on working time refer only to ‘workers’ and exclude bogus self-employed workers or persons providing services and labour on the basis of other personal employment contracts. Health and safety at work are of paramount importance in the European Union and form one of the cornerstones of the European Pillar of Social Rights.

The authors suggest that consideration should be given to amending the safety and health acquis in order to extend occupational health and safety in the EU beyond the category of ‘worker’ to include bogus self-employed and non-standard employment relationships.

The report recommends further research into the health and safety risks posed by these new technologies and work patterns as they are currently under-researched. If scientific research shows that legislation is needed to address psychosocial risks in the workplace, physical collisions in shared workplaces or musculoskeletal disorders due to new technologies and patterns of work, there should be further exploration of possibilities of new legislation or amendment of the existing legal framework.


In its conclusions of June 2019, the Council had already addressed the issue of the changing world of work and the challenges for the safety and health of workers due to new forms of work (see article July 2019).

The Commissioner-designate for Jobs, Nicolas Schmit, also highlighted that the changing world of work calls for a new approach to safety and health at work. In his hearing before the European Parliament on 1 October 2019, he stressed that he was concerned about safety and health at work. In his written reply to the European Parliament’s questionnaire, he stressed that he wanted to ensure a high level of health and safety at work. To do this, he intends to explore possibilities beyond the current EU strategic framework on safety and health at work, which is in place until 2020. In order to address key risks such as cancer, stress, mental health and musculoskeletal disorders, Schmit stated that current policy tools need to be carefully examined.