Member states call for a new EU strategy on occupational safety and health

During the meeting on December 10th, 2019, the Council of the EU adopted conclusions calling on the European Commission to set up a new EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work for the period 2021–2027. While workers in the EU are to a large extent appropriately protected, there is still enough to be done to improve occupational safety and health in Europe.

Here’s a summary of the conclusions regarding dangerous substances and carcinogens.

Legislation and action plans

The Council recalls that The EU’s Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) legislation and its chemicals legislation sometimes generate overlaps or even contradictory requirements. This may cause confusion, administrative burden and legal uncertainty. In addition, the health surveillance of workers exposed to dangerous substances is not always regular and systematic. Particularly when workers are no longer exposed to those substances, e.g. when they have changed jobs or retired.

The conclusions recognise that some positive results have been achieved, as many member states have adopted national action plans based on the existing framework. The Commission, the member states and social partners are invited to intensify their efforts in the area of the changing world of work.

What can the European Commission do?

Regarding dangerous substances, the European Commission is invited to:

  • PROPOSE further binding limit values for priority carcinogens and other dangerous substances, based on the precautionary principle and on up-to-date scientific evidence, and UPDATE existing limit values, if required for the protection of workers.
  • DEVELOP guidance on measurement of the binding limit values introduced at European level, including, where relevant, biological limit values.
  • CLARIFY the interface between OSH and REACH legislation and IMPROVE coordination by developing transparent procedures and criteria to be used when selecting the most appropriate substance specific regulatory options.

What can EU member states do?

European member states are invited to:

  • IMPROVE, in accordance with national law or practice, the coverage of workers by health surveillance throughout their lives, and, in particular for workers who have been exposed to specific dangerous substances, including for the period after the end of the exposure, as long as the medical practitioner or authority responsible for the health surveillance of workers considers it to be necessary to safeguard the health of the workers concerned.
  • EMPHASISE the importance of risk assessment and the hierarchy of preventive measures in the prevention of occupational accidents and diseases.

For further reading

Click here to read the press release of the Council of the EU and to download the full text of the conclusions. Items regarding dangerous substances and carcinogens are: 7, 15, 25, 26, 38, 39, 40, 51 and 52.

Click here to read about hierarchy of preventive measures, a.k.a. the STOP Strategy and here for an introduction on carcinogens.

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