New priorities in occupational health and safety


The European Commission has presented a new Strategic Framework for Health and Safety at Work 2021-2027. It is not only dedicated to objectives such as the prevention of accidents and occupational diseases, but also looks to the future: the changing world of work and preparing for future crises.

The number of fatal accidents at work in the EU fell by around 70 per cent between 1994 and 2018. With its Strategic Framework for Health and Safety at Work, the Commission is now setting new priorities in occupational safety and health for the coming years. These priorities - for example, through action by means of directives, initiatives or recommendations - provide the framework for regulations to be adopted by each EU state on its own initiative. The Commission's guiding principle is that health and safety at work, which pursues the same objectives throughout the EU, not only helps to make work more efficient and safer. It also ensures fairness in the internal market, improves Europe's competitiveness and helps to ensure that Europe continues to offer the most attractive jobs.

Progress in digitalisation is fundamentally changing our working world. Most of the European occupational health and safety directives were created a good 30 years ago and thus, in the Commission's view, do not always reflect technological and social developments. The Strategic Framework therefore announces, for example, a revision of the Workplace and Display Screen Equipment Directives - the Commission intends to present its proposals on this by 2023. The tripartite exchange between the European social partners and governments has now begun.

Even more important is the role of the social partners in the issue of telework discussed in the Strategic Framework and the right to be unavailable - demanded, for example, by the European Parliament. National social partner solutions to mobile working have proven their success time and again. The EU therefore rightly trusts that the social partners, both at European level and in the Member States, have the competence to find suitable solutions to this problem. At European level, the social partners set a good example with their digitalisation agreement.

In addition to prevention, preparedness and change, the Strategic Framework also addresses preparedness for future crises: for example, the development of an emergency plan and guidelines for potential hazards. Member States themselves are called upon to develop a mechanism to allow better coordination between public health and occupational safety authorities. They should further develop their OSH strategies in line with the strategic framework and in cooperation with the social partners. The entire strategic framework is thus largely dependent on implementation at national level.