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Community strategy on health and safety at work (2002-2006)

This summary has been archived and will not be updated, because the summarised document is no longer in force or does not reflect the current situation.

Community strategy on health and safety at work (2002-2006)

The aim of this strategy is to facilitate the application of existing health and safety at work legislation and to come up with new ideas for the period in question. It is based on an inventory of the current situation, on the basis of which the Commission reiterates the three prerequisites for a safe and healthy workplace: consolidating risk prevention culture, better application of existing law and a global approach to well-being at work. To meet these conditions, the Community strategy proposes three main approaches: adapting the legal framework, support for innovative approaches (formulation of best practices, social dialogue, corporate social responsibility) and finally the mainstreaming of health and safety at work in other Community policies.


Commission Communication of 11 March 2002 on a Community strategy on health and safety at work (2002-2006) [COM(2002) 118 - Not published in the Official Journal].


1. The Lisbon European Council highlighted the fact that Europe is currently experiencing the transition to a knowledge economy characterised by profound changes in the composition of the active population, forms of employment and risks at the workplace. Identifying the various trends helps to better define the problems for which the health and safety at work strategy will have to provide solutions.


Trends in the active population: feminisation and ageing

2. Trends in the active population call for a global approach to the quality of employment, taking into account the specific situation of different age brackets and the gender dimension.

3. For example, the steady rise in the numbers of women whose work calls for specific measures in some areas: women are not susceptible to the same types of occupational diseases as men and have different types of industrial accidents. The differences between the sexes must be better taken into account in the legislation. To this end, action must be taken with regard to the ergonomics of workstations, and physiological and psychological differences must be taken on board in the organisation of work.

4. By the same token, older workers (50 years plus) tend to have more serious industrial accidents leading to higher mortality, as they tend to be over-represented in the more dangerous manual occupations.

Diversification of forms of employment

5. The increase in temporary contracts and unconventional hours (shift or night work) are factors that increase the dangers to which workers are exposed. These workers are often poorly trained, sometimes demotivated because of the unstable nature of their contract and suffering from psychosomatic problems caused by their working hours. New forms of employment, such as teleworking, lead to the appearance of new problems of which more account must be taken.

The changing nature of the risks

6. Changes in work organisation (target-driven approaches and greater flexibility) have a profound effect on health at work and on the well-being of workers in general. Problems such as stress, depression, violence, harassment and intimidation at work are rising fast and, by 1999, already accounted for 18% of all work-related health problems. Strategies to prevent these new social risks should also incorporate the incidence of addictions, in particular alcoholism and drug addiction, on accident frequency.


A global approach to well-being at work

7. The Community's health and safety at work policy should promote real well-being at work, be it physical, emotional or social, which is more than merely the absence of occupational accidents or diseases. To this end, the following additional measures must be taken:

  • continuing reduction in industrial accidents and occupational diseases (quantifiable objectives should be set at Community and national level);
  • prevention of social and emotional problems (stress, harassment at work, depression, anxiety and addiction);
  • better prevention of occupational diseases, in particular the diseases linked to asbestos, hearing loss and musculoskeletal complaints;
  • more consideration of demographic trends in occupational risks, accidents and diseases (older workers and protection of young people at work);
  • gender mainstreaming in risk assessment, prevention measures and compensation arrangements;
  • more consideration of changes in the forms of work and work organisation (temporary and unconventional work);
  • taking on board the specific problems of SMEs, micro-enterprises and self-employed workers.

A real culture of prevention

8. Improving knowledge of risks involves:

  • education and training (raising awareness in schools' programmes, teaching in vocational programmes and in the context of continuing vocational training);
  • raising employers' awareness of the issues involved in creating a well managed working environment;
  • anticipating new and emerging risks, whether linked to technological innovations or social trends (creation of a risk observatory within the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work).

This Agency should play a key role in these awareness-raising and anticipation activities.

Better application of existing law

9. The proper application of Community law is a prerequisite for improving the quality of the working environment. The Commission, in conjunction with the social partners, will accordingly be drafting guides to applying the relevant directives which will take into account the diversity of companies and sectors of activity. Moreover, the Commission will be developing activities to encourage, through close collaboration between the national authorities, the correct and equivalent implementation of the directives. In this context, the development of joint inspection objectives and joint methods of assessment for the national inspection systems must be promoted, and the inspections carried out by the inspectorates in the Member States must lead to uniform penalties which are dissuasive, proportionate and effectively applied.


10. Promoting a high-quality work environment, taking on board the three dimensions above, calls for a global approach based on all the available mechanisms.

Adapting the legal and institutional framework:

  • adapting existing directives to scientific developments and technological progress;
  • analysing the national reports on the application of the directives in order to identify the difficulties faced by the various actors in the implementation of the legislation;
  • new provisions, including extending the scope of the Directive on carcinogens, creating a new legislative framework on the ergonomics of workstations, a communication on musculoskeletal disorders and new legislation on emerging risks (inter alia, bullying and violence at work);
  • streamlining the legal framework: codifying the existing directives and drafting a single implementation report to replace the specific reports provided for in the various directives;
  • merger of the Advisory Committee on Safety, Hygiene and Health Protection at Work and the Safety and Health Commission for the Mining and Other Extractive Industries.

Support for innovative approaches:

  • Benchmarking and the identification of best practices should:- promote convergence in the Member States, with the setting of national objectives to cut accidents, occupational diseases and lost days as a result of accidents or illnesses;- lead to a better definition of emerging phenomena such as stress-related complaints and illnesses and musculoskeletal disorders;- develop knowledge of and monitor the economic and social costs of accidents and occupational diseases.
  • Voluntary agreements concluded by the social partnersSocial dialogue and action by the inter-professional and sectoral social partners are good ways of tackling the specific risks and problems of particular occupations and sectors. They often lead to the drafting of good practices, codes of conduct or even framework agreements.
  • The social responsibility of businesses and competitivenessMany companies consider creating a safe and healthy working environment to be an important criterion in their choice of subcontractors and the marketing of their products. Health and safety at work is being included ever more often in voluntary certification and labelling initiatives. A healthy working environment is part of a global approach to managing quality which leads to better performance and competitiveness. The relationship between health and safety at work and competitiveness is more complicated than just the cost of complying with certain standards. In fact, the absence of a policy can lead to a loss of productivity which is far worse in terms of cost.
  • Economic incentivesThe fixing of insurance premiums for companies on the basis of their accident frequency represents a real financial incentive. This practice should be applied more systematically.

Mainstreaming of health and safety at work in other Community policies

11. Well-being at work cannot be achieved exclusively through health and safety policy. It is closely linked to other Community policies, such as the European Employment Strategy, public health policy, the placing on the market of work equipment and chemical products and other protection policies based on prevention (e.g. in transport, fishing, the environment).


Preparation for enlargement

12. The following measures should be applied in order to ensure the application of the acquis:

  • stepping up the technical assistance programmes and exchanges of experiences based on partnership and twinning formulas;
  • stepping up social dialogue;
  • promoting the collection and analysis of data on occupational accidents and diseases.

Development of international cooperation

13. Linking the activities of the Commission with those of other international organisations (e.g. the World Health Organisation and the International Labour Organisation) is vital, especially in fields such as combating child labour and the impact of alcohol and drug addiction on health and safety at work.

As part of the Council's work, this coordination has led to the adoption, in the context of International Labour Conferences, of an agreement and a recommendation on the safety and health of workers in mining and in agriculture, a protocol and a recommendation on the recording and declaration of industrial accidents and occupational diseases, including the revision of the schedule of occupational diseases, and the adoption of a resolution on safety and health at work.

Cooperation with third countries, particularly those around the Mediterranean, the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries, the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) countries and the Mercosur countries (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) is essential to ensure that minimum standards are respected.

Finally, the cooperation and exchanges of experiences in the field of health and safety at work developed as part of the transatlantic pact with the United States should be stepped up.


14. This Strategy succeeds the 1995 Commission Communication on a Community Programme concerning safety, hygiene and heath at work (1996-2000).

At that time, the focus was on the following points:

  • the establishment and operation of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work in Bilbao;
  • the correct transposition of the various directives and their practical application (assessment reports, monitoring of the labour inspectorate);
  • creating a safety culture in the business sector;
  • developing the link with employability (the quality of employees' work depends largely on their working conditions).

Key terms used in the act

  • In 1998, 5500 workers died as a result of an occupational accident, and 4.8 million accidents led to more than three days' absence from work. Compared to the situation in 1994, the frequency of occupational accidents has dropped by almost 10%.
  • Fishing, agriculture, building, health care and social services had rates more than 30% above the average.
  • The extractive industries, manufacturing, transport and hospitality had rates more than 15% above the average

Last updated: 08.03.2004