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Health and safety at work – general rules

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Health and safety at work – general rules

The European Union (EU) establishes a set of base rules in order to protect the health and safety of workers. To this end, this Directive establishes obligations for employers and workers, in particular to limit accidents at work and occupational diseases. This Directive should also improve the training, information and consultation of workers.


Council Directive 89/391/EEC of 12 June 1989 on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work [See amending act(s)].


This Directive establishes base rules on protecting the health and safety of workers *. The measures provided in the Directive aim to eliminate the risk factors for occupational diseases and accidents.

These measures apply to all sectors of activity, both public and private, with the exception of certain specific activities in the public (e.g. army, police, etc.) and civil protection services.

Employers * are obliged to ensure the health and safety workers in every aspect related to the work, including if they enlist external companies or persons. Member States may limit this responsibility in the case of force majeure *.

The employer shall establish means and measures for protecting workers. These involve activities of prevention, information and training workers, particularly to:

  • avoid risks or manage those risks that cannot be avoided;
  • give appropriate instructions to workers by promoting common protective measures;
  • adapt working conditions, equipment and working methods by taking into account developments in techniques.

The protection means and measures should be adapted in cases where the working conditions change. In addition, the employer should take into account the nature of the activities of the company and the capabilities of the workers.

If workers from several companies work in the same work place, the different employers shall cooperate and coordinate their protective measures and risk prevention measures.

In addition, activities of first aid, fire-fighting and the evacuation of workers in serious and immediate danger must be adapted to the nature of the activities and to the size of the company. The employer must inform and train those workers who could be exposed to serious and immediate danger.

The employer shall establish protective and preventative services in their company or establishment, including with regard to activities of first aid and reacting to serious danger. The employer shall therefore appoint one or several trained workers to ensure that the measures are followed or to call the external services.

Monitoring the health of workers is ensured by the measures fixed in accordance with national legislation and practice. Each worker may request a health check at regular intervals.

Groups of people at risk or particularly sensitive people should be protected against dangers which could affect them specifically.

Consulting workers

Employers shall consult workers and their representatives concerning all the issues related to health and safety at work.

Workers’ representatives can suggest that the employer takes particular measures. They can enlist the national competent authorities if the employer fails to fulfil their duty.

Workers’ obligations

Each worker must take care of their own health and security and that of persons affected by their acts or by their omissions at work. In accordance with the training given and the instructions of their employers, in particular workers must:

  • use equipment, tools and substances connected to their activity of work correctly;
  • use personal protective equipment correctly;
  • refrain from disconnecting, changing or removing arbitrarily safety devices fitted;
  • immediately inform the employer of any work situation which represents a serious and immediate danger.


This Framework Directive is supplemented by the sectoral Directives (listed in the Annex), in particular concerning the use of personal protective equipment and manual handling work.

Key terms

  • Worker: any person employed, including trainees and apprentices, but excluding domestic workers;
  • Employer: any natural or legal person who has an employment relationship with a worker and has responsibility for the undertaking and/or establishment;
  • Force majeure: situation where the events due to extraordinary and unforeseeable circumstances outside of the control of the employer, have consequences which could not have been avoided despite all the measures being taken.



Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Directive 89/391/EEC



OJ 183, 29.6.89

Amending act(s)

Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Regulation (EC) No 1882/2003



OJ L 284, 31.10.2003

Directive 2007/30/EC



OJ L 165, 27.6.2007

Regulation (EC) No 1137/2008



OJ L 311, 21.11.2008

The successive amendments and corrections to Directive 89/391/EEC have been incorporated into the original text. This consolidated version is of documentary value only.

Last updated: 19.08.2011