EU strategic framework on health and safety at work 2021-2027

The new 2021-2027 OSH framework, announced in the European Pillar of Social Rights action plan, sets out the key priorities and actions necessary for improving workers’ health and safety over the coming years in the context of the post-pandemic world.  This is a world that will be marked with green and digital transitions, economic and demographic challenges and the changing notion of a traditional workplace environment. There are three broad objectives to the framework - change, prevention and preparedness.

For close to 20 years now, EU OSH strategic frameworks have played a pivotal role in the way national authorities and social partners decide on OSH objectives. These objectives include (i) increasing alignment on common priorities; (ii) facilitating cooperation; (iii) triggering investment in OSH; and (iv) promoting concrete actions at workplace level.

The new strategic framework therefore focuses on three crosscutting key objectives for the coming years:

- Anticipating and managing change in the new world of work brought about by the green, digital and demographic transitions.
- Improving prevention of workplace accidents and illnesses.
- Increasing preparedness for any potential future health crises.

To deliver on these objectives, action is needed at EU, national, sectoral, and company level.

In the context of the progressive digitalization of work and the risks presented by it, the framework document also draws attention to the Commission’s proposals for a regulation governing machinery products and another regulation governing artificial intelligence. Above all however, it places special emphasis on workers’ mental health, which in the past has frequently been neglected. Even without the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the digital transformation at the workplace can challenge and overwhelm the human psyche in a variety of ways. For this reason, the Commission has announced an EU initiative to assess problems in workers’ mental health caused by digital work and propose guidelines for countermeasures by the end of 2022.

Prevention continues to be a core theme of the strategy. More investigations of workplace accidents, more information for workers, and stricter enforcement of safety and health regulations are intended to help achieve the ambitious goal of Vision Zero. The work-related causes of cardiovascular diseases and musculoskeletal disorders are still not sufficiently researched, nor are employees and employers adequately aware of them.

Under the third heading, Preparedness for future crises, the Commission has outlined a contingency procedure for future potential health crises. This particularly includes a mechanism for Member States to notify the Commission of the occurrence of crisis-related occupational health hazards and corresponding national safety and health plans.