New data on work-related accidents released by the European Union statistics agency Eurostat suggest that the long-term trend toward safer workplaces is levelling off and may soon reach a plateau. Despite the global economy slowing down during the Covid-19 pandemic, fatal accidents at work rose in 12 Member States in 2020. There were 2.7 million accidents at work in Europe, of which 3,355 were fatal.
Every year, Eurostat gathers and assembles the data collected by Member States on work-related accidents. The latest available figures are for 2020, the year in which the pandemic disrupted the world of work. The rise in fatal accidents was the most notable in Italy, which recorded the largest death toll of all Member States, with an additional 285 deaths compared to the previous year. At the other end of the spectrum, France recorded the largest decrease, with 262 fewer deaths compared to the previous year. However, this large reduction has to be put in perspective with regard to the sharp increase that occurred during the preceding period – resulting more or less in a return to the less-than-ideal average.
A forecast analysis conducted by the European Trade Union Institute shows that fatal accidents at work will not completely disappear until 2062 in the EU27 if change continues at the same pace as during the last decade. In this scenario, another 25,166 workplace deaths should be expected between 2021 and 2029. The same analysis conducted a year ago forecasted fatal accidents at work to end in 2055. The 'zero deaths' horizon was therefore delayed by seven additional years, which indicates that the trend is leveling off. The forecast is even grimmer when running individual analyses by country: fatal accidents at work would never end in France, Spain and Hungary. Poland would be the first to reach the target in 2027, followed by Portugal in 2030 and the Netherlands in 2034. While it is unlikely that the trend follows a strictly linear pattern, this analysis succeeds at showing the discrepancies between Member States in the context of the zero-deaths target, and the implications of the plateau that has been reached over the recent years.
As a wake-up call, the European Trade Union Confederation launched its Zero Death at Work campaign, which challenges politicians at the EU and national levels to commit to taking the actions needed to eradicate these avoidable tragedies. This year, the ETUC announced substantially increased support for its campaign. The Labour Ministers of Slovakia and Slovenia have now signed the ETUC’s manifesto, taking the number of ministers supporting necessary action to end deaths at work into double figures. Vice Presidents of the European Parliament, the Presidents of the S&D, and Co-Presidents of the Green and Left groups in the European Parliament, as well as MEPs from the EPP and Renew groups, have also signed the manifesto.
The manifesto calls on the European Union, its Member State governments, and employers to genuinely commit, and take the actions needed, to achieve zero deaths at work. The ETUC advocates for an increase in workplace health and safety training, protection, reporting, inspections and penalties, and for new legislative (and other) initiatives in the next mandate of the European Commission and Parliament. ‘The fact [that] fatal workplace accidents are on the rise again across Europe should keep employers and politicians awake at night and shows we need to renew our commitment to keeping people safe at work,’ stresses ETUC Deputy General Secretary Claes-Mikael Stahl.
The ETUC plans to deliver a final manifesto – with even more political support – to EU institutions on the next Workers Memorial Day, 28 April 2023.