More legislative action needed?

SW – 10/2021

The responsible rapporteur, Marianne Vind (MEP), has presented a draft report on the new "EU Strategic Framework for Health and Safety at Work 2021 - 2027" (see report 7/2021), which will also address better protection of workers from exposure to harmful substances, stress at work and injuries caused by repetitive movements (only available in English). In principle, the strategic framework presented by the EU Commission in June, and in particular the introduction of the "Vision Zero" concept for occupational accidents and diseases, is welcomed. However, additional legislative measures are necessary to achieve the "Vision Zero" concept.

Reduce exposure to hazardous substances

Among other things, the continuous revision of Directive 2004/37/EC on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to carcinogens or mutagens at work is called for, so that the occupational exposure limits contained in the Directive apply to at least 50 priority substances by 2024. The calls to reduce the exposure limit of asbestos to 0.001 fibres/cm3 (1,000 fibres/m3) in order to protect workers and to present an EU framework directive for national asbestos abatement strategies are also reiterated.

Addressing psycho-social risks

The draft also contains far-reaching demands on the subject of "mental health at the workplace". Directive 89/391/EC on the introduction of measures to improve the safety and health of workers at work has proved insufficient to deal with psycho-social risks. MEPs would like the European Commission to be more ambitious in tackling psycho-social risks and enforcing the right of non-availability.

The European Commission should propose a directive on psycho-social risks aimed at effectively preventing, among other things, anxiety, depression, burnout and stress at the workplace. The European Commission should seek recognition of anxiety, depression and burnout as occupational diseases, establish mechanisms for their prevention and for the reintegration of affected workers into the workplace, and move from measures at individual level to an approach based on work organisation.

What´s next?

A first debate of the competent "Committee on Employment and Social Affairs" on the draft report is scheduled for 26 October 2021. The Committee is currently scheduled to act on the report on 26 January 2022.

Keeping pace with change

The "Employment and Social Affairs" Council also considered the new EU Strategic Framework for Health and Safety at Work 2021 - 2027 at its meeting on 15 October 2021. The policy debate focused on the main challenges in the implementation of the Strategic Framework, the actions considered necessary at European level and the role of occupational health and safety measures in making work more sustainable.

The world of work is facing a number of significant challenges, including demographic change, which is leading to a decline in the working age population. This would jeopardise the stability of labour markets and social protection systems in the EU. It is, therefore, crucial to have working conditions that enable everyone to work sustainably and help people to stay in work. The key is to ensure a high level of health and safety at work.

Ministers welcomed the new strategic framework, which will help ensure that occupational health and safety standards meet the needs of the changing world of work.