EU strategy protects workers' safety and health in today’s changing world of work

EU-OSHA’s William Cockburn explains how the Commission’s latest health and safety at work strategic framework will benefit workers across Europe.

By William Cockburn

William Cockburn, EU-OSHA Interim Executive Director

22 Jun 2022

Improving prevention. Anticipating change. Increasing preparedness. These are the three cross-cutting objectives of the EU’s Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2021-2027

Designed to protect the health and safety of workers in the EU – all 170 million –, the framework sets out the key priorities. It outlines the actions needed in a post-pandemic world to manage both the green and digital transitions, as well as the demographic change resulting from an ageing workforce.

As we approach the first Anniversary of the strategy, it is important to ensure that we live up to our commitments. Officially launched by the European Commission on 28 June 2021, the strategy stems from more than 30 years of EU occupational safety and health (OSH) legislation. It builds on the achievements of the previous (2014-2020) strategic framework, as well as input from a broad range of stakeholders.

I think our efforts at the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) have played a crucial role in delivering on the ambitions of the framework. As we enter the post-pandemic era, it’s clear to see the big transformation that workplaces have undergone to survive and thrive. Our practical COVID-19 resources have already helped organisations to confront the pandemic and protect their personnel.

The pandemic is just one concern. The strategic framework pinpoints many more key challenges facing Europe’s workers and the road ahead requires sustained commitment. EU-OSHA has and will continue to play a vital implementation role by facilitating action, cooperation, and exchange among its extensive network of partners. It will also continue to support a prevention culture in workplaces across the EU and beyond, for now and in the future.

“It is estimated that for every euro a business invests in OSH they will receive double that in return”

In practical terms, EU-OSHA is supporting the development of online OiRA tools to help micro and small organisations in their risk assessment process, which is the pillar of OSH management. We also contribute to Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan through our participation in the Roadmap on Carcinogens and our Workers exposure survey on cancer risk factors in Europe.

Research and data collection, both at EU and national level, are essential for the prevention of work-related diseases and accidents. EU-OSHA’s ESENER survey and OSH Overviews, for example, support evidence-informed policymaking and contribute to the framework’s objectives of addressing change, prevention, and preparedness in OSH.

In addition, EU-OSHA is raising awareness. The main way it is spreading its message to workplaces across Europe is through the Healthy Workplaces Campaigns. The 2023-2025 campaign will aim for a safe and healthy digital future, and includes topics such as telework, digital platform work, artificial intelligence and advanced robotics. All these activities are in line with the European Commission’s Vision Zero approach to eliminate work-related deaths, accidents and diseases.

Together, we are building a strong case for a high level of OSH protection. Besides the need to protect human life, there is also a sound economic argument. Research shows that work-related accidents and illnesses cost the EU economy over 3.3% of GDP per year. It is estimated that for every euro a business invests in OSH they will receive double that in return.

Looking ahead, EU-OSHA will join EU institutions, Member States, social partners, and other relevant OSH stakeholders at a 2023 OSH summit under the Swedish Presidency of the Council of the EU. The gathering will build on the momentum and draw on the achievements thus far. Participants will take stock of progress on the strategic framework and reflect on the adaptations in light of the fast-changing nature of the world of work.

This article reflects the views of the author and not the views of The Parliament Magazine or of the Dods Group

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