Remarks by Executive Vice-President Dombrovskis on the new occupational safety and health strategy in a changing world of work

(Source: European Commission)

“Check against delivery”

Good afternoon everyone.

The pandemic has taught us many lessons. Since it struck Europe early last year, we have done all we can to protect people’s lives and jobs.

But we need to think hard also about their health and safety at the workplace too.

Not only to protect workers themselves, but also to keep critical services running and societies functioning smoothly.

The world of work is changing rapidly. Workplaces are changing with it.

For many, the concept of a traditional workplace is disappearing fast. While that brings opportunities, it also brings challenges and risks – health, psychological and social.

Due to the pandemic, almost 40% of workers turned to working remotely, full time.

These trends will continue as we move towards a greener and more digital economy.

Platform workers are another example, along with people in other non-standard types of work. And we cannot forget mobile and cross-border workers, or seasonal workers from inside  or outside the EU.

They can sometimes find themselves exposed to unsafe living and working s conditions.

That is why it is time to make sure that the EU’s rules governing occupational safety and health are fit for the future, as our societies and economies move with the times. These rules protect the health and safety of almost 170 million workers  across the EU.

But they need updating.

The last decades have brought significant progress in this area.

However, there are still too many accidents, many of them fatal.

And more than 200,000 workers in EU each year die from work-related illnesses.

Apart from the human suffering this causes, work-related accidents and illnesses cost the EU economy over 3.3% of GDP each year – around €476 billion.

So it is a priority to maintain and also improve protection standards for workers: in an economy that works for people.

The right to a healthy and safe workplace is also reflected in the European Pillar of Social Rights.

That is why, today, we are proposing the EU strategic framework on health and safety at work, 2021-2027. It sets out our new objectives for a post-pandemic world of work, to:

  • anticipate and manage change in the new world of work brought about by the green, digital and demographic transitions;
  • improve the prevention of workplace accidents and illnesses;
  • better prepare for any potential future health crises.

Taking these objectives in turn:

For change: we want to modernise our rules to take the digitalisation of economy into account, propose protective limit values on asbestos and lead, and present an EU initiative on mental health at work.

For prevention: we will promote a ‘vision zero’ approach to eliminate work-related deaths, also with amendments to carcinogens and mutagens legislation to combat cancer.

For preparedness: we will develop emergency procedures for occupational safety and health, along with guidelines for possible future health threats. We will also update the Commission recommendation on occupational diseases to include COVID-19 by next year.

I would like to stress that the EU is working together with likeminded partners and we will continue to promote effective standards in the area around the world.

Labour markets are increasingly global.

We plan to engage more with our partner countries, regional and international organisations, including the G7 Vison Zero Fund and the G20 Safer Workplaces Agreement.

In addition, we will promote the broader issue of ‘decent work’ in future EU trade agreements – following the recent example of the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement.

We will work with Member States and social partners to address change in the new world of work to make sure that the new measures are properly applied on the ground.

That way, all the EU’s workers can reap the benefits from these new opportunities – in decent jobs, with more protection and less vulnerability.

Thank you. I now pass the floor to Nicolas. 

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