Maintain high standards, incorporate new risks.

SW – 01/2020

This is the goal set by the European Commission as part of reviewing the strategic framework for health and safety at work. In its Communication ‘A Strong Social Europe for Just Transitions’, it announced that it would revise its occupational health and safety strategy. The aim is to maintain the high safety and health standards enjoyed by workers in the EU.   

New challenges for occupational safety and health

In addition to ‘traditional’ risks, such as exposure to hazardous substances, the Commission wants to address new risks arising from digitalisation and new technologies in the workplace. On the one hand, robots and digital tools can take over dangerous and monotonous tasks from humans. On the other hand, new work patterns resulting from digitalisation, such as constant connectivity, increased online work and mobile work away from the workplace, or new human-machine interfaces, place new demands on prevention and occupational safety.

Council pushing for a new occupational safety and health strategy

The Council had already adopted its Conclusions for ‘A new EU Strategic Framework for Health and Safety at Work: Enhancing the implementation of Occupational Safety and Health in the EU’ in December last year and asked the EU Commission to adopt a new occupational safety and health strategic framework for the period 2021 - 2027.

The Council also invited the European Commission to include Vision Zero approaches in the new strategic framework with regard to fatal accidents and fatal occupational diseases at work. In doing so, it wishes in particular to promote a culture of prevention and improve the safety culture at work.

Within the framework of the new occupational safety and health strategy, the EU Commission is called upon to take up the following key actions:

  • address the challenges of a changing world of work,
  • support SMEs and micro-enterprises,
  • eliminate hazards and prevent diseases, including cancers resulting from the handling of dangerous substances in the workplace,
  • address psychosocial risks and work-related accidents and illnesses, including musculoskeletal disorders,
  • promote gender equality aspects in occupational safety and health and combat harassment, including sexual harassment, and bullying at work.

The Council has also called on the European Commission, together with the competent national authorities, the competent Union Agencies and the Advisory Committee on Safety and Health at Work, to address the health and safety challenges associated with new forms of work. In order to meet the challenges posed by the changing world of work, the EU Commission should continue to improve OSH minimum requirements and update OSH legislation, such as the Workplace Directive and the Display Screen Equipment Directive.

Investing in OSH pays off

In its Conclusions, the Council also emphasises that investments in OSH help to prevent work-related illnesses, accidents, and harmful physical and psychosocial strain. This has a tangible positive impact on the economy by improving work performance and contributing to longer working careers. The EU Commission also points out in its Communication that every euro invested in occupational safety and health generates a return of at least two euros. In a joint research project on the costs and benefits of investments in occupational health and safety with the International Social Security Association (ISSA), the German Social Accident Insurance (DGUV) and the German Social Accident Insurance Institution for the Energy, Textile, Electrical and Media Products Sector (BG ETEM) came to the conclusion that the ‘return on prevention’ is a factor of 2.2.


In its Communication, the European Commission also sets out the timeframe for presenting the initiatives with which it wants to make a social Europe fit for the digital age. The roadmap contains various initiatives that are also relevant to OSH such as a demographic change report, a Green Paper on ageing, a strategy for people with disabilities, a European plan to combat cancer, a summit on platform work, and an action plan to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights. It has not given a specific timeframe for presenting the EU’s new strategic framework for safety and health at work and the EU strategy on mental health called for by the Council.