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The big picture

Dr Christa Sedlatschek, Director of EU-OSHA

How should we work together across the European Union, to protect people at work from injury and ill health? Now is the time to be thinking about this, as the EU Strategy on Health and Safety for 2007 to 2012 comes to an end, and we look both at what it has achieved, and what still needs to be done in the years ahead.

We recently got an indication of the European Commission’s thinking on these points, in a speech given by László Andor, the Commissioner responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion. Speaking at a conference in Copenhagen, Commissioner Andor said that the EU needs a health and safety Strategy, and that a new Strategy after 2012 is justified.

Though it’s too early to tell whether the old Strategy has achieved its goal of reducing workplace accidents across the EU by 25%, according to Commissioner Andor the signs were that the accident rate would be significantly lower in 2012 than it was five years ago. The Strategy, Commissioner Andor said, had succeeded in providing a framework for co-ordinating health and safety across the EU, providing a clear sense of where we’re going.

Making the case for a new Strategy, Commissioner Andor argued that there is a clear role for EU-led action to tackle occupational health and safety risks, since those risks are broadly the same across all the EU Member States. But it isn’t enough just to have comprehensive EU legislation on workplace health and safety – what we need is to exchange experience and good practice, undertake joint initiatives, and have a common strategic approach to our shared problems.

According to Commissioner Andor, a new Strategy should focus on a smaller number of priorities. And in each of the priority areas that he mentions, we at the Agency are already working on various projects.

He mentions the need for ‘tackling health issues and preventing work-related health problems’ for example, singling out work-related psycho-social risks as a growing problem in the EU. Our next Healthy Workplaces Campaign (2014-15) is on psychosocial risks, while our European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks looked particularly at the ways in which psychosocial risks are currently being managed in European enterprises.

Commissioner Andor mentioned the need for ‘more effective implementation of EU legislation’ – OiRA, our Online interactive Risk Assessment tool (which makes it easier to comply with risk assessment rules, especially for SMEs) is a good example of how we’re helping with this.

Finally, Commissioner Andor mentioned the need for a ‘special effort over the next few years to make working life sustainable.’ For some time now, we at the Agency have been looking at the changing demographics of the EU – the fact that people in Europe are living longer. We have given our support to the European Year for Active Ageing, emphasising the importance of occupational safety and health in helping older people to stay in work. And we will continue to focus on the health and safety implications of having an ageing population, as this issue becomes increasingly important.

We’ll be working closely with the Commission as they assess the old Strategy and consult on the shape of any new one for the years after 2013.