Compliance, Occupational Safety

How does the EU legislative framework for health and safety affect businesses?

A concise explanation of content and key issues and the next steps your organization needs to take to comply

8 minutes04/07/23

As a company, you are subject to countless regulations, national and international laws, and changes in the law. This also applies to occupational health and safety. For example, safe working conditions and work processes are part of the eighth goal “Decent Work and Economic Growth” of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the UN Agenda 2030. In the European Union, these issues are addressed by the EU-OHSA — the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. With ESG reports such as the CSRD becoming increasingly relevant, it is particularly worthwhile for forward-looking companies to be informed about the overall picture and the planned priorities and changes in this area.

On June 28, 2021, the European Commission officially launched its new strategic framework on health and safety at work 2021–2027 – also colloquially referred to as “EU health and safety law” – to ensure the health and safety of workers in a changing world of work, particularly in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic. The “European Pillar of Social Rights” emphasizes in its 10th principle that “workers have the right to a high level of protection of their health and safety at work”. At the Porto Social Summit on May 7, 2021, all partners reaffirmed their determination to implement the European social rights framework and a strong social Europe. They committed themselves to promoting fair and sustainable competition in the internal market, including through healthy workplaces and environments.

"Europe's social targets must go hand in hand with its green and digital targets. We want to get closer to full employment, more Europeans to have access to the skills they need and ensure equal opportunities for all Europeans in a more digital and sustainable economy. The Porto Social Summit is our joint commitment to build a social Europe that is fit for our day and age and that works for everyone."

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission

What changes with the legislative framework for health and safety?

The previous EU strategic framework for health and safety at work (2014–2020) focused, among other things, on preventing occupational diseases, tackling demographic change, and implementing legislation. Key achievements include three successive updates of the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive, guidelines and online tools for employers developed by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA), including on COVID-19. 

The legislative framework for health and safety is based on contributions from a wide range of stakeholders. These include an EU-OSHA report on national strategies for health and safety at work, recommendations and hearings in the European Parliament, several Council conclusions, exchanges with the social partners and independent experts, a public consultation, as well as the opinion of the Advisory Committee on Safety and Health at Work and the Senior Labour Inspectors’ Committee.

"Occupational accidents and diseases cost the EU economy more than 3.3% of its GDP (€460 billion in 2019)."

Source: "International Comparison of the Cost of Occupational Injuries and Diseases" (EU-OSHA)

What are the main objectives for the period 2021–2027?

The 2021–2027 strategic framework focuses on three main overarching objectives:

  • Anticipate and manage changes in the new world of work resulting from the environmental, digital, and demographic transitions.
  • Improve the prevention of occupational accidents and diseases.
  • Improve preparedness for potential future health crises.

What do these objectives mean for your company?

Achieving these objectives will require action at EU and Member State level, as well as at sector and company level. Here is an overview of the main priorities in the areas of

Anticipating and managing change in the context of ...

  • an ageing European workforce, requiring the adaptation of working environments and tasks to minimize health and safety risks
  • rapid technological (and in particular digital) progress, which poses challenges (risk of downgrading, increased training needs, etc.) but also of opportunities (integration of disabled workers, work-life balance, implementation and use of OHS policies via accessible tools, awareness-raising, and more effective controls, etc.)
  • changing ways of working, in particular as a result of digitalization, with a significant increase in the number of people working remotely, requiring new and updated OHS solutions and a revised and adapted regulatory framework
  • increasing development of robotization and artificial intelligence, which will make it possible to reduce the risks associated with the most dangerous tasks
  • ongoing climate change and its impact on working conditions (e.g., extreme temperatures, air pollution)
  • rapid deployment of wireless and mobile technologies – and their increased use for work purposes – requiring a more thorough analysis of workers’ exposure to optical radiation and electromagnetic fields
  • significant increase in psychosocial and ergonomic risks, exacerbated by the development of teleworking.

Improve the prevention of occupational diseases and accidents, in particular by ...

  • strengthening the culture of prevention within organizations in line with the “Vision Zero” approach to work-related deaths in the EU
  • emphasizing the need to analyze and identify the causes of accidents (including near misses and hazardous situations), taking appropriate preventive measures, raising awareness and training all workers, and regularly monitoring the correct application of the OSH directives in the workplace
  • combating the main causes of work-related deaths, which are cancer and circulatory diseases (heart disease or strokes), but also the emergence of new risks (obesity, addiction – alcohol, tobacco, drugs)
  • better addressing and preventing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), which are affecting an increasing number of workers in the EU
  • updating the exposure thresholds for dangerous substances (in particular CMRs) under the REACH regulation and assessing the risks associated with their use according to “one substance, one assessment” approach
  • identifying and combating discrimination, harassment, and violence in the workplace.

Improve preparedness — responding rapidly to (health) threats, including ...

  • assessing risks and identifying preventive measures to limit the impact of health crises
  • updating the regulatory framework to allow recognition of Covid-19 as an occupational disease in all EU countries
  • encouraging companies to put in place preparedness plans to anticipate and manage health crises in the workplace.

Impact of the framework on companies

As can be seen, the legislative framework for health and safety defined by the European Commission for 2021–2027 will bring additional requirements for companies in an already complicated economic context. To summarize, here are the main issues that companies should pay particular attention to now in order to anticipate the possible organizational and operational impact. Click on any of the following requirements below for a detailed description and to find out how you can address them in your organization:

Requirement #1: Modernize and digitize your OHS processes 

Requirement #2: Anticipate a more restrictive regulatory framework 

Requirement #3: Identify and address new risk factors 

Requirement #4: Strengthen your prevention culture 

Requirement #1: Modernize and digitize your OHS processes to improve productivity and efficiency

We regularly meet companies that already have a general framework in place that allows them to manage the various topics related to OHS: Identifying and monitoring legal obligations, incident and accident reporting, risk assessment, monitoring professional qualifications, training plans, technical inspections, audits, prevention plans, etc. 

Each topic is often treated independently of the others, in silos, even though links are clearly needed from an operational point of view. The time required to collect and consolidate information in the factories,  the sites or on the construction sites is very high and the sources of error are numerous – sometimes the information is simply not available because it is not reported from the field (for example, cases of hazardous situations). 

To overcome these inefficiencies and increase productivity, data quality, and analysis relevance, it is necessary to have an integrated software solution dedicated to EHS/OHS issues that is comprehensive, easy to use, and scalable.

Requirement #2: Anticipate a more restrictive regulatory framework

As mentioned above, a number of regulatory texts applicable to OHS will be reviewed (or created) in the coming years to strengthen worker protection and encourage companies to take into account the emergence of new risks. In particular, it will be necessary to monitor developments in the following areas:

  • likely revision of the “Machinery” Directive, in particular with regard to the risks arising from the digitalization of activities and machinery
  • revision of the Workplace Directive and the Display Screen Equipment Directive by 2023
  • tightening of exposure limits
    • for asbestos in the “Asbestos at Work Directive” by 2022
    • for lead and diisocyanates in the Chemical Agents Directive in 2022
    • for cobalt in the CMR Directive in 2024
  • creation of a legal framework to cover the risks associated with the use of AI-based systems, in particular for employee management (recruitment, development, etc.)

Requirement #3: Identify and address new risk factors

It will also be important to consider these new issues in the risk assessments according to the activities and identification of these risks within the company. As indicated in the previous point, it will be necessary to anticipate

  • the challenges posed by teleworking, digitalization, and the right to disconnect
  • the ageing of the workforce and the specific risks that this will entail
  • the increase in psychosocial risks (isolation, burnout, workplace violence, harassment, discrimination, conflicts)
  • workstation ergonomics (musculoskeletal disorders)

Requirement #4: Strengthen your prevention culture

Risk prevention is also an important issue for companies in connection with the “Vision Zero” approach to work-related deaths. Priorities for action include:

  • Improving data collection in relation to occupational injuries and diseases
  • Further analysis of the root causes of each work-related death or injury
  • Implementing and monitoring the proper implementation of safety instructions for internal and external staff (safety audits, etc.)
  • Accurately monitoring the professional qualifications required to perform the activities (especially those that are the most dangerous or require special expertise)
  • Setting up and monitoring internal training (regulatory or specific to the company’s activities)

Quentic can help you with these topics

As a provider of integrated, modular, and scalable software solutions dedicated to EHS and ESG, Quentic can help you meet the requirements of the legal framework for health and safety and enable you to increase efficiency and reliability in collecting, processing, and analyzing relevant information.

  • Report all types of incidents
  • Consolidate information and reporting
  • Integrate new risk factors
  • Meet the latest regulatory requirements
  • Address new exposure thresholds for specific substances