New EU strategic framework on health and safety at work 2021-2027 - Occupational safety and health (OSH) in a changing world of work

In “An Economy that Works for People”

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In her State of the Union address on 16 September 2020 before the European Parliament, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced a new occupational safety and health (OSH) strategy. On 28 June 2021, the Commission adopted its communication 'EU strategic framework on health and safety at work 2021-2027 – Occupational safety and health in a changing world of work'. The new strategic framework (building on the previous EU strategic framework 2014-2020) sets out the key actions needed to improve workers' health and safety over the coming years. As the Commission notes, despite the progress made over the past decades, there were still more than 3 300 fatal accidents and 3.1 million non-fatal accidents in the EU27 in 2018, and more than 200 000 workers die each year from work-related illnesses. The new framework also aims to make workplaces fit for the green, digital and demographic transitions.

The  new strategic framework takes a tripartite approach involving EU institutions, Member States, social partners and other stakeholders. It focuses on three key priorities: 1/ anticipating and managing change in the new world of work (this will include a review of the Workplaces Directive and the Display Screen Equipment Directive, updating protective limits on asbestos and lead and an EU-level initiative related to mental health at work); 2/ improving the prevention of work-related accidents and illnesses (the strategic framework will promote a ‘vision zero' approach to work-related deaths in the EU, and the Commission will update EU rules on hazardous chemicals to combat cancer, reproductive, and respiratory diseases); 3/ increasing preparedness for potential future health crises,  drawing lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic.

A first exchange of views with Commissioner Nicolas Schmit (Social Affairs and Jobs) took place during a meeting of Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) on 14 July 2021.

On 15 October 2021, the Ministers for Employment and Social Affairs welcomed the new OSH strategy framework, during a policy debate at the Employment and Social Policy Council (EPSCO).

The EESC adopted an  opinion on 20 October 2021.

On 1 December 2021, the EMPL Committee had an exchange of views on the draft EMPL own-initiative report on a new EU strategic framework on health and safety at work post 2020. The rapporteur is Marianne Vind (S&D, Denmark).

The European Committee of the Regions adopted an opinion on the Commission's communication during its plenary session of 26-27 January 2022.

The vote on the draft report in EMPL Committee took place in February 2022 (with 43 votes in favour, 3 against and 8 abstentions). The report underlines the necessity to draw lessons from the coronavirus pandemic, calls for a specific focus on the protection and promotion of the mental health of health care professionals and other frontline workers and for an EU directive on psychosocial risks and well-being at work. It also asks the Commission to establish minimum requirements for telework across the EU, including a proposal for a directive on the right to disconnect. It asks for the establishment of a roadmap for the reduction of accidents and deaths at work to complete the transition towards 'zero fatalities' and for an increased focus on prevention strategies. It calls the Commission to update EU-rules on occupational exposure limit values of hazardous chemicals for at least 25 additional priority substances without delay, and to present a European Strategy for the Removal of All Asbestos in line with Parliament's resolution of 20 October 2021 (see separate fiche).

On 10 March 2022, the European Parliament adopted an own-initiative resolution on a new EU strategic framework on health and safety at work post 2020 (including better protection of workers from exposure to harmful substances, stress at work and repetitive motion injuries).

On 13 February 2023, as a follow-up to the new strategic framework on health and safety at work, the European Commission proposed to amend two directives (Council Directive 98/24/EC and Directive 2004/37/EC) as regards the limit values for lead and its inorganic compounds and diisocyanates. On 12 June 2023, the Council approved its general approach on this proposal. This general approach provides the upcoming Spanish presidency of the Council with a mandate to begin negotiations with the European Parliament, with a view to reaching a provisional agreement on the amending directive. The vote on the draft report in EMPL committee took place on 7 September 2023; the decision to enter into interinstitutional negotiations was announced in plenary the week after.

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Author: Laurence Amand-Eeckhout, Members' Research Service, legislative-train@europarl.europa.eu

Visit the European Parliament pages on Social Europe and EU health policy.

As of 20/10/2023.