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3 October 2012

The future EU agenda for health and safety at work

The framing of a new European strategy on occupational health and safety (OHS) was the focus of discussions of the ETUI’s annual meeting on health and safety at work attended by more than 60 trade unionists from EU Member States and candidate countries in early September in Malta.

Several months later than expected, the European Commission in June confirmed that a new strategy on health and safety at work would be adopted by spring 2013. Meanwhile, priorities for the new strategy would be unveiled in autumn 2012, followed by a public consultation over the Internet to glean opinions from the wider community rather than just the traditional European social partners as with previous OHS strategies.

Trade unions will be working to shape the agenda in line with the priorities set out in the ETUC Resolution on EU Strategy in OHS published in December 2011. Topping the union list are the prevention of musculoskeletal disorders and occupational cancers.

Participants also discussed the 2013-2020 strategy of the European Agency on Occupational Safety and Health, known as the Bilbao Agency after the Spanish city where it is headquartered. The European trade unionists want improvements through “Healthy Workplaces Campaigns” and more resources to adapt the Bilbao Agency’s output to national needs, as well as more and relevant information on the economic impacts of OHS and better-coordinated and –run tripartite national Focal Points – the bodies that coordinate the Agency’s work at national level.

The participants were updated on developments in the inter-institutional debate on the future of three European tripartite agencies (the "Bilbao Agency", the Dublin-based Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions and the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training - CEDEFOP). The trade unions want solutions that fully recognise the importance of tripartism in decision-making in these agencies, especially in relation to budgets and work programmes.

Some participants presented interesting examples of trade union initiatives. Complaints had been made to the European Commission and the ILO about worsening occupational health and safety in two EU Member States – one by the Slovak TU confederation KOZ SR after the amendment of the slovak law on occupational health services, and one by the Dutch TU confederation FNV regarding an ILO Convention on Labour Inspection. The FNV also gave a presentation of a simple computer-based system for canvassing trade unionists’ views on various aspects of OHS.

The strategy meeting discussed forthcoming ETUI activities on working conditions. The main existing networks (the Workers Group of the Advisory Committee on Safety and Health, and the expert committees on standardisation and chemicals should be strengthened and complemented by a new network focused on psycho-social risks. Building up the links between the ETUI and the European Trade Union Federations and developing a new network with trade unions from candidate countries will be other key elements of the ETUI work programme.

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