The European Commission is revisiting a number of directives to determine whether they are still relevant or need changing to continue to protect workers by having tighter controls on health and safety measures at the workplace.
A report conducted a few years ago by COWI on behalf of the European Commission – which evaluated feedback by Member States on whether a series of directives in this area were still relevant – led to a communication issued by the Commission, that of ‘Safer and Healthier work for All – Modernisation of the EU Occupational Safety and Health Evaluation and Policy’.
Delivering a presentation during a consultation session organised by MEUSAC on March 24, 2017 in conjunction with the OHSA on the Commission’s Communication, Occupational Health and Safety Authority CEO Dr Mark Gauci explained that a number of important findings emerged from the evaluation report, the report having stated that an emerging factor where workers in the EU are concerned is work-related stress and which was having an impact on the workforce. He said work-related musculoskeletal disorders are also a cause for concern.
He said that although the EU OSH acquis is still relevant, some challenges persist:
• The burden of occupational cancer remains high
• Coverage of some groups of workers could be improved
• Some provisions are outdated and/or could be simplified
• Business, especially SMEs, needs support to better apply OSH rules
• Need to strengthen inspection and monitoring
Dr Gauci pointed out that some 102,500 persons die in the EU as a consequence of occupational cancer – a main cause of work-related deaths in the EU (53%).
He said the Commission is putting a string of measures in places to deal with the issue of workers who are exposed to cancer-causing chemicals, giving this issue priority.
Dr John Cachia, Commissioner for Mental Health, who was present for the session, expressed concern over the fact that the Communication does not mention mental health and the place of work. He said the physical, biological and chemical aspects at work were being tackled by the Commission, including ergonomics (which still needed more attention) while conditions tied to mental health as a result of the workplace was not given much attention. He explained that mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, is responsible for a great deal of sick leave. The costs of poor mental health are high, he continued, quoting an OECD report which states that it is estimated that around 3.5% to 4% of GDP is lost due mental health issues.