European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

Accueil > Topics > Health & Safety - working conditions > News list > Occupational health flatlined in EU

News list

22 April 2013

Occupational health flatlined in EU

28 April is World Day for Safety and Health at Work. The International Labour Organization has marked it with a damning report which cautions that 6,300 people in the world die of a work-induced disease or accident every day. That adds up to 2.34 million people a year. Diseases are the biggest killer, with an estimated toll of 160,000 deaths a year in Europe alone.

This World Day comes as EU health policies are at a dead halt. The last strategy ended in December 2012 and the big pieces of planned legislation have not been adopted. The current European Commission has given up on the idea of harmonizing working conditions upwards, apparently considering that the crisis may make decent jobs a luxury.

The European Trade Union Institute hosted a conference on the new strategy on 26 and 27 March at which Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner László Andor dodged pledging himself to a firm timetable over the coming months. The current Commission’s term expires in 2014. Failing a policy decision before the end of summer, the matter will likely be shunted back to the next Commission and the next Parliament.

The European Working Conditions Survey done in 2010 by the Dublin Foundation shows a rise in inequalities in many areas. The gap between national situations is particularly worrying for a large number of indicators. The divides are even sharper within countries. The overall situation has deteriorated for all manual workers – fewer than half think they will still be able to do the same job by the age of 60.

The Bilbao-based European Agency for Safety and Health at Work surveyed the drivers and barriers of a prevention policy in workplaces. The main thing that drives firms to develop a prevention policy is a statutory duty - 90% said compliance with legal obligations was what made them act. But requests from workers and their representatives were also cited by three-quarters of firms. Economic reasons and pressure from labour inspectors - understandable given how short-staffed labour inspectorates are – came way down the list.

Improving the Community legislative framework is still crucial to harmonizing national situations. Most of the directives in force were adopted between 1989 and 1995. The principles they lay down are serviceable but incomplete and not up to many risks. The three health priorities that a new strategy must address are work-induced cancers, musculoskeletal disorders, and problems caused by psycho-social risks.

The crisis was brought on most prominently by rising social inequalities and widespread capital-friendly deregulation. The job at hand is to turn this tide to get a more equal society and business under social and public control.

The debate on the health and safety at work strategy is very much a practical one because every employee in Europe will feel the outcomes on the quality of their working conditions. It is also a supremely political one which reflects the clash between two irreconcilable visions of society.

The ILO report

The ETUI Conference on OSH

ETUC press release for the 28 th April

All news