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Procedure : 2011/2147(INI)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A7-0409/2011

Texts tabled :

A7-0409/2011

Debates :

PV 14/12/2011 - 23
CRE 14/12/2011 - 23

Votes :

PV 15/12/2011 - 9.11
CRE 15/12/2011 - 9.11
Explanations of votes
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :


Debates
Wednesday, 14 December 2011 - Strasbourg OJ edition

23. Health and safety at work (short presentation)
Video of the speeches
PV
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  President. – The next item is the report by Karima Deli, on behalf of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, on health and safety at work (2011/2147(INI)) (A7-0409/2011).

 
  
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  Karima Delli, rapporteur.(FR) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, the crisis should in no way be used as a pretext for neglecting health and safety at work. Our aim is to provide good-quality employment to all workers, despite persistent mass unemployment and a sharp rise in casual work. According to the European Agency for Safety and Health at work, 168 000 people die each year in Europe as a result of work-related accidents and illnesses, of which more than half are cancers, and one quarter are cardio-vascular diseases. How can we not be shocked by this growing number?

As rapporteur for the review of the European strategy on health and safety at work, which will come to an end in 2012, my conclusions are clear. It would be morally wrong to turn a blind eye to people’s suffering at work. It would also be a mistake in economic terms, because all the studies indicate that accidents and professional illnesses are very costly, both to our health and social security systems and to our businesses.

From 2013 onwards, this strategy should be more ambitious, more consistent and, above all, more courageous. To achieve that, we need to strengthen the legislative framework and adapt current legislation to new occupational hazards such as psychosocial risks, musculoskeletal problems and nanomaterials. Work-related stress should not be treated merely with training courses, as this has proven entirely insufficient given that half of all European workers are exposed to risks that affect their mental health. The truth should be spelled out. Workers suffer, in particular, from the sudden reorganisation or intensification of their work and poor methods of management.

Furthermore, many employees draw attention to dangers for people as well as the environment. These workers must be protected. I am proud that Parliament is calling on the Commission to establish a directive that protects these much talked about whistle-blowers.

The European Commission should not hesitate to bring infringement proceedings against Member States that do not respect their obligations. European harmonisation in the health sphere is a significant step forward.

It is also vital to foster a culture of prevention in Europe. The Member States should increase the staff employed in their labour inspection services and seek to achieve the objective of one inspector per 10 000 workers, in accordance with International Labour Organisation recommendations.

There is absolutely no justification for weakening the prevention rules in small and medium enterprises (SMEs) or for independent workers, who enjoy the same fundamental right to health protection.

Furthermore, we have observed an increase in outsourcing of work and the emergence of subcontracting chains. There are new groups of workers who are not covered by prevention policies: casual workers, bogus self-employed people, subcontracted workers, and so on. Given the risk of exposure to powerful radiation and the dangers linked to the management of radioactive waste, it is essential that rigorous standards are applied to training, safety at work and inspection by independent bodies.

Finally, we need to take stock of new, emerging hazards, such as chemical and biological risks, which are complex but for which there is still insufficient data. Rapid action needs to be taken on asbestos, silica and other recognised carcinogens. The REACH provisions play a very important part in preventing cancers and other work-related diseases. It needs to be kept up-to-date and comprehensively implemented.

Finally, professional illnesses should be recognised, or better recognised, starting with cancers, in order to quickly identify all of the issues.

Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I therefore call on all of you to support my report, because I am perfectly sure that it will enable us to meet all these challenges, and that Europe has a role to play. It should protect all workers, who must not lose their lives on account of their job.

Commissioner, I hope that, from 2013, there will be a European strategy on health and safety at work, and I truly hope that we will make swift progress on this.

 
  
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  Sylvana Rapti (S&D).(EL) Madam President, I wish to congratulate and thank Karima Delli on her excellent report. I had the pleasure and honour of acting as shadow rapporteur for the socialists on this report and I consider it my duty to remind the House of the outcome of the vote on this report in committee: there were 36 votes for and just two against. I think that is a very important point.

I would also like to remind the House that asbestos kills workers, that musculoskeletal diseases cause them pain and that stress leads workers to commit suicide. Our defence against all this is a new strategy for health and safety at work from 2012 onwards. The weapon with which we can defend ourselves in this situation is new legislation, a new directive. That, Commissioner, is in your hands; you have all the scientific data, you have all the documents and – most importantly – you have the support of the European Parliament to act and safeguard conditions of health and safety for workers, especially during these difficult times with the economic crisis in Europe.

 
  
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  Danuta Jazłowiecka (PPE). (PL) Madam President, an economic crisis is usually a very difficult period not only for entrepreneurs but also for employees. Companies which are seeking to minimise their operating costs pay much less attention to health and safety principles. We cannot forget that the European strategy on this matter is being implemented in specific economic circumstances, and that these have a major impact on its effectiveness.

Currently, the biggest threat facing employees is the ever-present risk that they will lose their job, and closely linked to that is the all too frequent phenomenon of bullying. Employers and superiors may take advantage of their status knowing that the situation on the labour market places them in a privileged position. Few people are in a position to stand up to the aggression they experience, knowing that they could end up losing their only source of income. I therefore also believe that we should focus on this phenomenon. The lack of a common, harmonised definition of bullying at European level is undoubtedly a huge oversight. For this reason, I back the appeal by the Commission and the Member States for the development of national strategies to combat violence in the workplace. However, these strategies must be based on a definition of bullying which is common to the Member States and an effective campaign to inform people of their rights. I agree with my fellow Member Karima Delli’s call to adopt and support this report.

 
  
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  Miroslav Mikolášik (PPE). (SK) Madam President, despite the fact that there is an extensive acquis communautaire in the area of health and safety at work, the practical experience of workers in everyday life shows that the legislation actually adopted is often not enough. Securing compliance with one of the basic rights – the right to health – requires the regular updating of laws and implementing measures, in line with the latest medical knowledge concerning health risks. In my opinion, the main problem at the moment is the lack of attention paid to chemical risks, which have an extremely negative effect on workers. There are still no comprehensive studies on these risks, although the occurrence of cancers and other chronic diseases is rising sharply. Employees should be regularly and adequately informed as to the risks associated with long-term exposure to carcinogenic materials which, unfortunately, cannot yet be substituted. The identification of such materials must also lead to their substitution, without unnecessary delays.

 
  
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  Derek Roland Clark (EFD). – Madam President, how many men does it take to change a light bulb? In one English council, tenants must send for council staff, who may not use ladders, only scaffolding. That is three people: one holds the rigging, one changes the bulb and one supervises.

That is the crazy English, but I do have better examples. At a meeting six years ago, I was astonished to hear of the number of young people injured at work. The independent body – unconnected with the EU – which had called the meeting suggested a range of safe practices which they claimed had reduced these figures – without legislation.

As I have said before, good ideas always spread, and a Latvian took these documents to use locally. But the EU legislates; we do it every day. Why – if good results can be achieved by unbiased advice from non-political sources? So I ask that elements of this draft report, such as simplifying existing legislation, implementing national strategies and adjusting to the context of Member States, carry through to the final, advisory version. Voluntary systems are always best: no infringement proceedings.

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D).(RO) Madam President, 168 000 European citizens die from work-related accidents or diseases every year, while another 7 million are injured in work-related accidents. About 50% of workers in the European Union do not have access to preventive services at their workplace, especially in SMEs and subcontracting chains. Investment in occupational risk prevention policies ensures growth in productivity and competitiveness, as well as viable social security systems and a decrease in social security costs estimated at 5.9% of GDP.

Austerity measures during the economic crisis must not jeopardise health and safety measures at work. I should highlight the recognition of poor working conditions and the adoption of health and safety measures required for workplaces like this.

I think that the gender aspect needs to be integrated into the policies of the 2007-2012 European strategy on health and safety at work to provide a better reflection of the specific risks facing women at work.

 
  
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  Seán Kelly (PPE).(GA) Madam President, although it is late at night, the issues we are discussing are very important, especially this one in relation to the health and safety of our own workers. I would like to thank my friend, Ms Delli, for the fine report she presented to us here tonight.

In common parlance, this is a no-brainer. Obviously, the healthier and safer workers are, the more productive they will be, the happier they will be and the greater sense of ownership they will have. There will be a concomitant reduction in terms of absenteeism and social security costs.

While legislation cannot do everything, it is nevertheless important that we legislate, particularly in the areas that Mrs Delli mentioned of carcinogenic, biological and chemical risks. Also, my experience is that, where legislation is taken seriously, people actually go beyond that legislation. Recently, I was asked to present the National Health and Safety Awards for all sorts of businesses – big and small – in Ireland. I was absolutely amazed at the lengths to which companies went to secure the health and safety of their workers and the bond that it created within and between the workforce and the management. Certainly a great deal can be learned from that.

 
  
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  Jaroslav Paška (EFD). (SK) Madam President, I agree that we must continue with efforts towards systematic improvements in safety for our workers.

We need to understand, however, that the economic situation is putting pressure on employers to save on safety measures and safety training, with some of them going so far as to take on undeclared workers. On the other hand, the economic situation is also putting pressure on the unemployed, and on people who want to work and are willing to risk more for work, in order to get work and who are sometimes willing, of course, to do undeclared work. We therefore need to respond very effectively and readily to the social changes currently taking place, and to amend our employment legislation so that it responds to this situation. We must emphasise that the employer is always fully responsible for work safety. Employers must also train their employees, provide protective measures and, in the event of injury or accident, bear the consequences. Employees must be assisted in court proceedings and the recovery of damages, and then employers will learn that they are responsible for any injuries or damage to health.

From this perspective, we must get more involved in our legislation and try to improve these rules.

 
  
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  László Andor, Member of the Commission. – Madam President, in February 2007, the Commission adopted a communication entitled ‘Improving quality and productivity at work: Community strategy 2007-2012 on safety and health at work’.

The strategy provided a political framework for improving occupational safety and health over the period 2007 to 2012 and laid out a road map for stakeholders to play an active role in achieving the objectives it identified. The fact that it was welcomed by all EU institutions highlights the importance of such an EU strategic framework for coordinating national policy and ensuring that workers enjoy safer and healthier conditions at work.

In particular, this House adopted a resolution on 15 January 2008 calling on the Commission to report to it on progress made at the half-way stage. In April this year, the Commission published a staff working paper entitled ‘Mid-term review of the European strategy 2007-2012 on health and safety at work’. It takes stock of what has been achieved now that the strategy has reached the half-way mark, re-examines the policy orientations and sets out proposals for the future of EU policy on safety and health at work.

The results of the mid-term review confirm that the strategy remains broadly fit for purpose, despite the changes that have taken place in the Union since 2007, and, in particular, the impact of the financial and economic crisis.

The strategy’s prime objective is achieving an ‘ongoing, sustainable and uniform reduction in accidents at work and occupational illnesses’. Given the overall reduction in incidence in the period covered by the previous EU strategy, the strategy set an ambitious target to reduce the total incidence of accidents at work in the 27 Member States by 25% from 2007 to 2012. A final estimate for the whole period covered by the strategy may not be available until 2014. This is because of time constraints related to collecting and processing national data by Eurostat. The findings in the mid-term review show a general positive development involving a reduction in accidents at work over the period 2007 to 2009.

But, despite this progress, there is still work to do under the current strategy. From the Commission’s viewpoint, the assessment of the first part of the period covered by the strategy highlights a number of priorities.

First, there is a need to simplify and update existing legislation and finalise proposals for legislation, after consulting the social partners and the stakeholders extensively. This relates, in particular, to the proposal for a revision of Directive 2004/40/EC on electromagnetic fields (the Commission proposal was adopted in June 2011 and is now being discussed by the colegislators) and the proposal for a new directive on ergonomics to replace the existing manual handling and display screen equipment directives (the Commission proposal may be adopted in the first half of 2012). Furthermore, the Commission will carry out an extensive screening of the implementation of all EU health and safety legislation, covering the period 2007 to 2012. The Commission is required to present its final report on this in 2015 at the latest.

Second, we need to consolidate the encouraging results of the first phase of implementation and to take them further in terms of adopting and implementing national strategies for occupational safety and health.

Third, we need to build on experience with Scoreboard 2009, with a view to developing a structured and commonly accepted monitoring tool for evaluating future EU strategies for occupational safety and health.

Fourth, we need to carry out the final evaluation of the current strategy and, based on the findings, to identify the next steps in the health and safety area for the period after 2012.

The Commission welcomes the Parliament’s decision to discuss and adopt a report on the mid-term review of the EU strategy on health and safety at work.

I appreciate the ambitious nature of this document and share the House’s view of the importance of occupational safety and health policy, which is one of the most advanced areas of European social policy. The importance of health and safety at work does not diminish at a time of crisis and my recent visit to the Bilbao Agency for Occupational Health and Safety was meant to signal this.

In line with the Europe 2020 strategy, improving working conditions goes naturally with job creation, promoting permanent employment and higher productivity, as the Commission highlighted in its communication on ‘An Agenda for new skills and jobs’.

In 2012, the Commission will complete the final evaluation of the current strategy and adopt a communication on EU occupational safety and health policy priorities for the post-2012 period based on the results of that evaluation. I can also add that I have started to work very closely with the Danish Presidency to keep health and safety among our priorities in the European Union.

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place at 11.30 on Thursday, 15 December 2011.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Iosif Matula (PPE), in writing. – The European strategy 2007-2012 on health and safety at work ensures the fundamental right of EU citizens to have access to safe and favourable working conditions.

While those in high-skilled positions enjoy a work environment that safeguards the health and safety of its employees, those in low-skilled and low-paying positions are subject to increased vulnerability as a result of illness, accidents and other work-related traumas. Acknowledging the pervasiveness of precarious working conditions is the first step in challenging the status quo.

A number of roadblocks exist, of course. Undeclared labourers are arguably most at risk because of the informal agreement between them and their employers. They must be incentivised to guarantee the provision of a set of fair working conditions regardless of the skill level of their employees. Like other Member States, Romania’s Labour Code explicitly provides for the protection of the health and safety of workers, yet applying it in practice remains a significant challenge.

 
  
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  Jutta Steinruck (S&D), in writing. (DE) I would like to thank Ms Delli for this report. The importance of health cannot be emphasised often enough. According to the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work in Bilbao, almost 28% of European workers claim to have significant health problems. This means that one in four workers in Europe is affected. Therefore, we must not only apply the existing occupational health legislation better in the Member States; we must also develop and improve it further, because the workplace is constantly changing, too. Whereas physical ailments were previously the top work-related illnesses, today it is mostly mental disorders that are on the rise in the workplace. This development, in particular, must be investigated thoroughly by means of improved health monitoring. The measures need to be adapted for this purpose. Prevention must also play a greater role. Furthermore, we must not forget that there are also certain groups whose health needs special protection. It has been proven that young, older and migrant workers and workers with precarious jobs are more frequently exposed to occupational hazards. If people are working without previous training or the necessary skills, the risk of disease or accident increases sharply. We must prevent this from happening.

 
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