European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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13 September 2017

ETUI occupational health seminar focuses on the revision of six OSH directives

The main item on the agenda at the ETUI’s annual Seminar on Occupational Safety and Health (OSH), held in Tallinn (Estonia) on 6 and 7 September and attended by around 50 participants, was the ongoing revision of six OSH directives. Preliminary conclusions were drawn regarding the revised Directive on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to carcinogens or mutagens at work. The representative of European Commission also took the opportunity to clarify its position on psychosocial risks and musculoskeletal disorders, two other topics of priority interest for trade unions.

Esther Lynch, Confederal Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation with responsibility for OSH issues, and Philippe Pochet, General Director of the ETUI, both emphasised the fact that the European Pillar of Social Rights represents a key opportunity for improving the European legislative framework governing OSH-related matters.

Ester Lynch expressed her belief that ‘The OSH agenda must be a key component of this project’, whereas according to Philippe Pochet, ‘The challenge will be to ensure that the topic of occupational safety and health is kept front and centre of discussions and not sidelined.’

Certain progress has finally been made in respect of the prevention of occupational cancers thanks to the current Commission’s intention to place more emphasis than hitherto on the social dimension of the European Union. ETUI researchers Laurent Vogel and Tony Musu explained what had been achieved and which challenges still remained in respect of the revision of the Directive on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to carcinogens or mutagens at work, with considerable headway having been made in recent months after a hiatus which had lasted since 2004. The ETUI’s determined efforts to disseminate information to the European Parliament had culminated on 11 July 2017 in a compromise between Parliament and the Council on the tightening up of the limit values originally planned for a series of carcinogens, and work will continue in the months to come with the aim of adopting limit values for a total of 50 carcinogens between now and 2020.

Charlotte Grevfors Ernoult, Head of the Health and Safety Unit within the European Commission’s DG Employment, reiterated the current Commission’s commitment to building on previous successes in respect of protecting workers against carcinogens. The Commission representative, however, made it plain that the Commission’s preferred approach to two other areas of concern for trade unions – musculoskeletal disorders and psychosocial risks – was to develop non-legislative initiatives rather than to put forward proposals for directives.

Ms Grevfors did, however, reiterate the Commission’s intention to conclude the revision process for six OSH directives* – adopted between 1989 and 2000, and therefore in need of updates to take account of the changes which have revolutionised the workplace over the past two decades, in particular those relating to new information and communication technologies, the emergence of new risks, and developments in technical and scientific knowledge – before the end of its current term of office.

Discussions to date have focused on the scale of revision necessary for each directive, potentially ranging from technical updates in annexes to far-reaching amendments to substantive provisions.

* Directive 89/654/EEC concerning the minimum safety and health requirements for the workplace, Directive 89/656/EEC on the minimum health and safety requirements for the use by workers of personal protective equipment at the workplace, Directive 90/270/EEC on the minimum safety and health requirements for work with display screen equipment, Directive 92/58/EEC on the minimum requirements for the provision of safety and/or health signs at work, Directive 92/29/EEC on the minimum safety and health requirements for improved medical treatment on board vessels and Directive 2000/54/EC on the protection of workers from risks related to exposure to biological agents at work.



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