Commission says no to stronger protection on health and safety
The European Commission have finally released details of what they are proposing to do on health and safety regulation in the coming years. Yesterday they released a communication which contained their response to a review of all 24 European health and safety directives that was produced in 2015, but has only just been published. You can read the communication and all 449 pages of the original report here. There is also a detailed TUC briefing on the proposals.
When I first saw the consultants’ report I was pleasantly surprised. Given they they had been asked to consider the burden the directives imposed as well as their effectiveness, this could have been yet another attempt to turn back the clock. Instead they concluded that overall the effect of the regulations is good, especially for workers health and safety, and there is no evidence of the regulations being a burden. On the contrary, they appeared to have contributed to a significant fall in injury and ill-health across the EU. The report also stresses the importance of enforcement and inspection.
One of the conclusions in the report is that “Strong evidence suggests that employee representation has noticeable influence on the proportion of establishments performing risk assessments and an even more pronounced impact on other key requirements.”
The report made a number of recommendations, including ones to look at new regulations in some areas.
It would have been nice if the Commission had implemented the report. Instead we got a pretty bland communication, full of useful insights on the importance of regulation and inspection, but almost nothing practical.
Given the huge levels of musculoskeletal disorders and stress in Europe, as well as the massive burden from workplace cancers, the least we could have expected is some action on these issues but there is almost nothing.
The Commission made much of the fact that they were introducing 5 new binding limit values on carcinogens, but that is far less than they had previously promised. The Commissioner had previously undertaken to propose 25 new binding occupational exposure limits (BOELs) in 2016 and to reach a total of 50 BOELs in the Carcinogens Directive by 2020. With 13 BOELs added in May 2016 and five more proposed in the communication, they are still well behind what they promised. They are also proposing nothing on asbestos or diesel exhaust and even some of the proposals they have made (like silica) are well above existing ones in many countries.
On Stress and musculoskeletal disorders we are getting guidance – great. Just what we need. They say that stress accounts for around half of all lost working days and that those with a stress-related illness can have five times more accidents and musculoskeletal disorders are the most prevalent type of work-related health problem and the first cause of work-related absenteeism and we are getting new guidance. It is obvious to anyone that we need new practical regulation on both these issues.
I won’t go through all of what is in the communication as the TUC briefing goes into enough detail, but it is a bitter disappointment to many trade unionists who had hoped that the Commission would at least follow some of the evidence – especially as they lay it all out in their own report.
Naturally the Commission stresses the importance of social partnership but it would have been nice if they had mentioned unions, or safety representatives, just once.