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Document 52014AR4330

Opinion of the European Committee of the Regions — An EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2014-2020

OJ C 140, 28.4.2015, p. 16–21 (BG, ES, CS, DA, DE, ET, EL, EN, FR, HR, IT, LV, LT, HU, MT, NL, PL, PT, RO, SK, SL, FI, SV)



Official Journal of the European Union

C 140/16

Opinion of the European Committee of the Regions — An EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2014-2020

(2015/C 140/04)



Mauro D'Attis (IT/EPP), Member of Brindisi Municipal Council

Reference document


Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on an EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2014-2020

COM(2014) 332 final



General comments


welcomes the aim of the Commission communication on a new EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2014-2020 to uphold the Europe 2020 employment targets by promoting high standards for working conditions both in the EU and internationally, but questions why the Commission makes no provision for specific legislative measures within this Strategic Framework, particularly in the area of Musculo-Skeletal Disease (MSD) and carcinogens;


supports in this context the call of the European Parliament on the European Commission:

to develop, implement and support a model for asbestos screening and registration in accordance with Article 11 of Directive 2009/148/EC;

to conduct an impact assessment and cost benefit analysis of the possibility of establishing action plans for the safe removal of asbestos from public buildings; and

to provide information and guidelines to encourage private house owners to effectively audit and risk assess their premises for Asbestos-Containing Materials (ACMs);


points to the contradiction by the European Commission of pursuing the establishment of an EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2014-2020 while at the same time announcing in its Work Programme 2015 the possible withdrawal of the proposal for a directive amending Council Directive 92/85/EEC on the measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health at work of pregnant workers and workers who have recently given birth or are breastfeeding;


acknowledges the importance of EU-level coordination of measures to address the risks connected to health and safety at work and to achieve ongoing and progressive improvement in working conditions;


notes that many of the initiatives planned under the 2007-2012 strategy have been implemented in the knowledge that no binding and measurable targets accompanied by a timetable have been set;


emphasises the essential and important role that employers and workers' representatives must play in developing policies on health and safety at European, national, regional and local level and calls on the Commission to strengthen social dialogue in its decision-making processes;


endorses the Commission's decision to identify three main challenges in the new strategic framework which are: i) complying with existing legislation; ii) better prevention of work-related illnesses, including the prevention of new and emerging risks; iii) the response to demographic developments;


agrees with the European Parliament that the economic crisis is not a pretext for undermining prevention policies and emphasises the importance of health and safety at work as a fundamental right for workers (1);


regrets that LRAs have played a very limited role in the Commission's strategy. The Committee calls on the Commission to guarantee that they will be formally involved in commitments in this area, acknowledging that as major employers they are key institutional actors;


stresses that, due to their partnership and links to local businesses, LRAs can play an important role in integrating legislation, promoting the ‘culture of prevention’ and the proper application of preventive standards, and supporting representation and collective redress on safety issues;

On the Commission's seven main strategic objectives

A.   Further consolidate national strategies


proposes to identify a European central steering committee responsible for defining, coordinating and developing health and safety at work issues (preferably coordinated by EU-OSHA), not least in order to play a more effective proactive role in providing a point of reference, guidance and oversight for Member States implementing EU legislation. This steering committee should:

take the organisational form of a network, coordinating and generating synergies between the various competences which are currently scattered across many European (e.g. EU-OSHA and Eurofound), national, regional and local bodies whose remits and functions meanwhile need to be reconfigured in order to take into account the major changes that have taken place over the past 15 years;

act as a permanent forum for consultation and development, in cooperation with, and with the participation of, the social partners at EU level, in order to provide a full and multilateral picture of health and safety at work issues;

so as not to generate further costs with regard to the current European spending review framework, employ only human resources, spaces and active infrastructure already in use within the network of European and national institutions working in the workplace health and safety field;


considers that swift action is needed to address the issue of reduced workers' rights and that effective measures must be taken to reduce the variations in legislation, models and implementation in the area of health and safety at work, which is one of the factors that can lead to a rise in social dumping and unfair competition in the regions within the EU market;


supports the Commission's plan to review national strategies in light of the new framework, by establishing a database covering all national strategic frameworks on health and safety at work in cooperation with EU-OSHA, the EU agency for health and safety at work. This work should be carried out in close consultation with the European social partners;


firmly believes that the ‘culture of prevention’ must be developed (with initiatives at school and during apprenticeships, occupational training and lifelong learning) along with a genuine, up-to-date ‘business culture’ based on the belief that quality in people is a determining factor in the quality of industrial processes and products;


considers training on prevention of workplace risks, which benefits both workers and businesses, to be crucial;


agrees with the Commission that raising awareness about health and safety at work starts at school and endorses the recommendation to give these issues greater prominence in school curricula;


upholds the Commission's focus on raising public awareness, and emphasises the key role that LRAs must play in this regard;


is strongly in favour of financing measures from 2014 and calls for ad hoc support to be arranged for projects presented by LRAs, especially those that represent areas where effective coverage by the public health system is lacking or areas facing demographic challenges;

B.   Facilitate compliance with health and safety at work legislation, particularly by micro and small enterprises


in accordance with the principle of horizontal subsidiarity, is in favour of ensuring business-support measures to identify technical and organisational solutions to safeguard health and safety at work;


agrees with the Commission on the need to provide financial and technical support for the online interactive risk assessment tool OiRA (2) and other technical, scientific and IT tools in the Member States, particularly in priority sectors and where micro and small enterprise are concerned;


endorses the Commission's initiative of promoting the exchange of good practice with SMEs, which will be supported by larger enterprises in the contractor-supplier-purchaser chain in order to improve health and safety at work;


calls for more integrated policies for SMEs (financial incentives, better access to the ESF and ERDF, practical albeit technically and scientifically rigorous mechanisms for risk assessment, partnership);


hopes that policies will be promoted exempting capital investment and yearly maintenance costs from taxes for businesses which introduce systems and tools for managing health and safety at work in keeping with guidelines and models produced by the competent public regulatory bodies;


accordingly, hopes that a European plan will be set up providing businesses with incentives for projects to introduce and maintain systems managing health and safety at work, using guarantee funds to facilitate access to bank credit and reinforcing technical support for businesses, particularly SMEs, partly through EU-OSHA;

C.   Better enforcement of health and safety at work legislation by Member States


supports the measures and policy recommendations set out in the European Parliament resolution of 14 January 2014 on effective labour inspections as a strategy to improve working conditions in Europe;


is in favour of the Senior Labour Inspectorate Committee (SLIC) providing the labour inspectorates and officials of bodies responsible for health and safety of individual Member States with guidance and coordination, and being equipped with the appropriate tools and resources;


stresses that public officials responsible for health and safety at work must also begin focussing on compliance with legislation and flags up the LRAs' role with regard to training these inspectors, urging that specific inspection models be defined for small and medium-sized companies so that they do not have to shoulder an unsustainable bureaucratic and financial burden;


enforcement actions should be based upon evidence of effectiveness with particular regard to those sectors in which there are real risks of breaches of health and safety regulations and ensuring they concentrate on enforcing existing regulations on exposure to carcinogens such as asbestos, and those diseases which are most prevalent in the workplace such as Musculo- Skeletal Diseases (MSD), stress related illness and other respiratory diseases such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD);


hopes that LRAs will have a stronger role in terms of local oversight, not least through progressive strengthening of their powers, particularly over the procurement and subcontracting system, one area where safeguarding is particularly inadequate;


proposes that exchanges of best practices be fostered between regional and local administrations actively involved in this field;


agrees that the effectiveness of sanctions, administrative fines imposed and non-traditional ways of monitoring compliance needs to be assessed in cooperation with the Member States, the Senior Labour Inspectorate Committee (SLIC) and the Advisory Committee on Safety and Health (ACSH), on the condition that the public sector is given an opportunity to play a role in these bodies;


considers that the decision to establish a European platform safeguarding the health of migrant workers is both pertinent and strategic, as the Member States have an increasingly limited capacity to respond to the impact of globalisation and the social and demographic changes brought about primarily by migration;

D.   Simplify existing legislation


is pleased that Framework Directive 89/391/EEC (3) stemming from a consultation promoted by the European Commission in 2011 on the top ten most burdensome legislative acts for SMEs (4), has been included in the REFIT programme;


considers that penalties must be accompanied by a target-based approach, with clear rules and efficient, streamlined procedures, enhancing the role of bilateral bodies representing the social partners who, if properly involved can, in keeping with the roles assigned to each, provide useful support to the bodies mandated by national law in implementing prevention measures;


endorses the move to include potential simplifications in the risk assessment and/or reductions in the administrative burden in the evaluation of health and safety at work legislation, but at the same time it must be ensured that the level of employee protection is not reduced;


considers that for specific sectors, particularly for micro-enterprises, instruments such as OiRA, that facilitate risk analysis, can be identified and promoted. Objective criteria and parameters should be based on accurate risk assessment and management, simplified as far as possible and be set in agreement with the competent institutional actors with a view to developing simplified risk assessment and management tools, partly through voluntary statements;


considers that the complex and onerous procedures involved in systems for managing health and safety at work are partly due to red tape resulting from compliance with international standards rather than public legislation. While recognising the professionalism of those involved in safety issues, the Committee considers that such issues should not add a secondary layer of complexity, particularly for smaller businesses. The Committee therefore hopes that a European dialogue will take place on quality certification as regards health and safety at work, with the aim of developing a voluntary EU standard that sets sustainable minimum requirements;

E.   Address the ageing of the workforce and emerging new risks


believes that the measures to safeguard health and safety at work must be tackled by means of a precautionary and holistic approach, factoring in the strong links between production, work and the environment and based on the best medical and scientific evidence available;


draws attention to asbestos-related lung and skin diseases, cancer, asthma, obstructive pulmonary disorders, MSD, stress related illness and other chronic diseases, and emphasises the need for rigorous analysis of existing risks and new risks resulting from restructuring, new technologies, materials and products;


considers that given the scientific uncertainty, the application of new technologies, materials and products in industry should be tackled using a precautionary approach to the management of health risks;


considers that:

account must be taken of the health and psychological well-being of workers arising from restructuring and the introduction of new technologies and working practices;

there should be a full risk assessment of the effects on the workforce and on society, also covering the economic costs and benefits;

the precautionary principle should be risk-oriented and include an appropriate risk assessment until such time as data supported by a broader scientific basis and technically checked by the European central steering committee referred to above are available;


notes the growing number of working women and the differences between the working lives of women and men (type of work, different conditions of risk exposure) which have an impact on their health and safety;


recommends that protective measures in working environments be diversified in order to ensure that they are effective for both women and men, taking into account the type of work performed and the subjective and objective differences in conditions of risk exposure;


agrees that health and safety at work policy can help combat discrimination and promote equal opportunities in EU policies, by calling for Directive 2000/78/EC (safeguarding the health and safety at work of people with disabilities) and Directive 2006/54/EC (forbidding any less favourable treatment of a woman owing to pregnancy or maternity) to be applied to the letter (5)  (6);


points out that ‘life-long-learning and volunteering are key drivers of active and healthy ageing. Adult education and older volunteering should be supported at EU, national and local level to help extend working lives, promote active retirement and support independent living’ (7); the EU should therefore arrange for the production of a manual of European best practice on active ageing;


consequently believes that, with a view to solving the problem of an ageing working population, it is essential to make provision for the exchange of information and good practice between Member States and companies, and for appropriate integration measures;


is confident ‘that EU action to support active and healthy ageing and solidarity between generations will boost innovation and growth potential across the EU and will bring economic benefits both for public and private actors at local, national and EU levels’ (8);

F.   Improve statistical data collection and develop the database


points out that improving data collection is essential to being able to make a comparison of health and safety at work services across the EU. Furthermore, comparative data analysis must be performed with a view to continuous improvement, flagging up procedural best practice rather than simply ranking performance. This will encourage the Member States to share data on actual risks;


supports the Commission in calling for the collection and compilation of more exhaustive statistical data, including at local and regional level, on work-related accidents and diseases, occupational exposure and work-related ill-health;


points out that the social partners play too limited a role in managing the health and safety at work information system. The social partners could provide valuable support in setting up the system, increasing sectoral data, and managing and using information flows;


emphasises that more reliable statistical data provide an inventory of the risks to workers' health, improve our understanding of the causes and so make it possible to draw operational conclusions;


hopes that a European information system on prevention in the workplace will be set up (knowledge promoting prevention) as a dynamic tool which can be used to integrate information available in present national systems. The Committee also hopes that a reading model will be established with a single database;

G.   Better coordinate EU and international efforts


endorses the Commission's view whereby clear EU standards in health and safety at work legislation could contribute to achieving equivalent global labour standards through bilateral and multilateral agreements with third countries;


considers that in the new international globalised context, it is necessary to guarantee that international conventions and agreements on health and safety at work standards are adopted and applied by all parties, in order to keep the EU competitive and avoid relocation to third countries by businesses looking for more permissive legal systems;


would remind the Commission to encourage Member States to ratify all ILO and other international conventions and agreements on health and safety, and to monitor health and safety at work standards and related issues closely in negotiations on all partnerships established worldwide, and particularly in current negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the United States.

Brussels, 12 February 2015.

The President of the European Committee of the Regions


(1)  EP Resolution on the European Strategy on Health and Safety at Work (2013/2685(RSP)).


(3)  COM(2012) 746.


(5)  Council Directive 2000/78/EC, OJ L 303, 2.12.2000.

(6)  Directive 2006/54/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council, OJ L 204, 26.7.2006, p. 23.

(7)  CdR 56/2012 fin Active Ageing: Innovation — Smart Health — Better Lives. Rapporteur: Mr Abramavičius (LT/EPP).

(8)  CdR 56/2012 fin Active Ageing: Innovation — Smart Health — Better Lives. Rapporteur: Mr Abramavičius (LT/EPP).