The European Commission has recently adopted its new, “EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2021-2027” (COM/2021/323, available here), bringing new health and safety priorities and actions for a fast changing post-pandemic workplace.

The post-pandemic working landscape has significantly changed, fuelled recently by green and digital evolution and influenced by economic and demographic challenges, the concept of a “traditional” workplace has changed, and the EU is taking active steps to introduce a new strategic framework that reflects these shifts and to ensure the health and safety of workers in the coming years.

Building on the work of the prior 2014-2020 strategic framework, which made considerable progress on the prevention of occupational diseases, addressing demographic change and the implementation of EU legislation, the new strategic framework aims to continue this work by contributing to the way EU member states and social partners determine national workplace health and safety objectives.

The new strategic framework has introduced the following objectives for 2021-2027:

  • Change: anticipating and managing change in the new working landscape, including through the modernisation and simplification of EU workplace health and safety rules, in the context of the green and digital evolution, and an increased focus on psychosocial and ergonomic risks faced by workers.
  • Prevention: improving the prevention of workplace accidents and illnesses, including through a focus on the causes of work-related deaths (including hazardous substances), the promotion of health at work and the recognition that workplaces are for all.
  • Preparedness: increasing preparedness to potential future health crises and the ability to respond rapidly to threats, the importance of which has been emphasised by the COVID-19 pandemic.

With implementation supported by social dialogue, strengthening the evidence base, strengthening enforcement, awareness raising and funding, the European Commission has called on EU member states to update their national workplace health and safety strategies to reflect this new strategic framework and the health and safety priorities and actions it brings to the new working landscape.

In practice, we are likely to see the review and expansion of certain EU workplace health and safety legislation and rules, and the development of a wide range of initiatives tasked with promoting and encouraging the health and safety of workers in the coming years, with the European Commission committing to a number of initiatives within the strategic framework, including (amongst others):

  • reviewing the Workplaces Directive (89/654/EEC) and the Display Screen Equipment Directive (90/270/EEC) by 2023 to modernise the existing  workplace health and safety legislative framework related to digitalisation;
  • proposing protective limit values on asbestos, lead, diisocyanates and cobalt in the relevant EU legislation;
  • launching an “EU-OSHA healthy workplaces campaign”, in particular covering psychosocial and ergonomic risks;
  • ensuring appropriate follow-up to the European Parliament’s Resolution on the right to disconnect;
  • promoting a “vision zero” approach to work-related deaths;
  • updating the EU rules on hazardous substances to combat cancer, reproductive and respiratory diseases, by consultation on reduced limit values on certain substances under the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive in 2023 and identifying a priority list of reprotoxicants to be addressed by the end of 2021 through relevant EU legislation;
  • launching an assessment of the effects of the pandemic and efficiency of the EU and national workplace health and safety frameworks to any potential future health crises; and
  • updating the Commission Recommendation on occupational disease to include COVID-19 by 2022.

More detail on what the European Commission intends to do, what is calls on EU member states to do and what it invites social partners to do in light of the new strategic framework can be found here.