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The OSH Framework Directive

The European Framework Directive on Safety and Health at Work (Directive 89/391 EEC) adopted in 1989 was a substantial milestone in improving safety and health at work. It guarantees minimum safety and health requirements throughout Europe while Member States are allowed to maintain or establish more stringent measures.

Directive 89/391 - OSH "Framework Directive"
of 12 June 1989 on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work - "Framework Directive".

In 1989 some provisions of the Framework Directive brought about considerable innovation including the following:

  • The term ‘working environment’ was set in accordance with International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No. 155 and defines a modern approach taking into account technical safety as well as general prevention of ill-health.
  • The Directive aims to establish an equal level of safety and health for the benefit of all workers (the only exceptions are domestic workers and certain public and military services).
  • The Directive obliges employers to take appropriate preventive measures to make work safer and healthier.
  • The Directive introduces as a key element the principle of risk assessment and defines its main elements (e.g. hazard identification, worker participation, introduction of adequate measures with the priority of eliminating risk at source, documentation and periodical re-assessment of workplace hazards).
  • The new obligation to put in place prevention measures implicitly stresses the importance of new forms of safety and health management as part of general management processes.

The Framework Directive had to be transposed into national law by the end of 1992. The repercussions of the transposition on national legal systems varied across Member States. In some Member States, the Framework Directive had considerable legal consequences due to inadequate national legislation while in others no major adjustments were necessary.

In 2004 the European Commission issued a Communication (COM [2004] 62) on the practical implementation of the provisions of same of the directives, namely 89/391 EEC (framework directive), 89/654 EEC (workplaces), 89/655 EEC (work equipment), 89/656 EEC (personal protective equipment), 90/269 EEC (manual handling of loads) and 90/270 EEC (display screen equipment)]. This Communication stated that there was evidence of the positive influence of EU legislation on national standards for occupational safety and health made up of both national implementing legislation and practical application in enterprises and public sector institutions.

In general, the report concluded that EU legislation had contributed to instilling a culture of prevention throughout the European Union as well as to rationalising and simplifying national legislative systems. At the same time, however, the report highlighted various flaws in the application of the legislation that were holding back achievement of its full potential. It also noted cases where infringement proceedings had been opened.