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Parliamentary questions
PDF 27kWORD 18k
14 June 2010
Answer given by Mr Andor on behalf of the Commission
Question reference: E-2994/2010

Ergonomic-related risks at the workplace, which are potentially responsible for work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMSDs) and display-screen vision problems, are among the major occupational safety and health problems facing the European Union today. They affect both men and women and all sectors of activity across the EU and place a major financial burden on businesses and society at large.

Data of exposure to risk factors and perceived work-related health risks available from recent EU surveys show that WRMSDs are on the increase in most Member States. Meanwhile, the need to address ergonomic risks is growing more important at a time of demographic change, which is expected to lead to a rise in the number of older workers in the EU.

The current EU regulatory framework, and in particular the Manual Handling Directive (90/269/EEC)(1) and Display Screen Equipment Directive (90/270/EEC)(2), does not cover all types of work situations or address all risk factors leading to WRMSDs.

On the basis of the outcome of a two-phase social-partner consultation and in the light of the results of a study on the social-economic impact of various policy options, the Commission has begun work on a proposal for legislation on all significant ergonomic risk factors at work and laying down minimum health and safety requirements for the protection of workers from WRMSDs and display-screen vision problems in all sectors of activity.

The action envisaged seeks to give substance to the concept of ‘smart’ legislation in this area of prevention by reducing the number of reference texts, streamlining administrative and technical obligations and making legislation easier to implement and enforce than it is at present.

During 2009 the Commission undertook an in-depth consultation of experts and stakeholders in the field with a view to drafting such a proposal for legislation on the basis of all know-how currently available and narrowing the differences of opinion that emerged from the social partner consultation.

This process was carried out within the Advisory Committee on Safety and Health at Work (ACSH) with the support of a technical group of national experts in ergonomics. The ACSH adopted a favourable opinion at its latest plenary meeting in December 2009. Both the Governmental Interest Group and the Workers Interest Group expressed support for the Commission's plan to put forward a proposal for a new directive on WRMSDs and amalgamate the Manual Handling and Display Screen Equipment Directives.

While the Employers Interest Group took the view that WRMSDs could be prevented more effectively if the framework Directive were implemented better and the two Directives concerned were updated, it also said that under certain conditions it would not oppose a proposal for a new directive on ergonomics.

Work on the new legislation will continue in 2010 within the ACSH. An additional study involving an impact assessment and focusing on the cost-benefit ratio of the policy options considered will be undertaken soon. Once the impact assessment is concluded, the Commission intends to present a proposal for legislation in 2011, as indicated in the Commission's Work Programme for 2010.

(1)Council Directive 90/269/EEC of 29 May 1990 on the minimum health and safety requirements for the manual handling of loads, OJ L 156, 21.6.1990.
(2)Council Directive 90/270/EEC on the minimum health and safety requirements for work with display screen equipment, OJ L 156, 21.6.1990.

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