European Health and Safety Laws
In Europe, the facts about safety are startling. Every five seconds there’s a work-related accident, causing 210 million working days to be lost each year. Over time, such accidents have also led to 2.3 million people off work with a chronic disability. The European Commission therefore takes a keen interest in all issues related to Occupational Health and Safety.
The Framework EU H & S DirectiveThe Commission bases European health and safety law on Article 137 of the EU Treaty. This treaty gives the EU the right to create legislation that it feels is necessary.
The EU has created health and safety law through a series of European Directives. The Framework Directive – also called Directive 89/391/EEC – lays down the health and safety principles. Further EU laws give the detail on topics such as noise, pregnancy and the use of chemicals.
These laws affect the way in which individual EU states promote and manage their health and safety issues.
The Aim of the EU Health and Safety DirectivesThe specifics of the EU health and safety directives are comprehensive and well-publicised. Their general aims are twofold: to ensure workers’ health, safety and well-being, and to maintain the well-being and productivity of businesses. The basis of the directives is scientific and technical advice from across the EU.
As well as creating legislation, the EU encourages health and safety research; strong enforcement of health and safety best practice; and regular training programmes.
The European Agency for Safety and Health at WorkIn 1996, to coordinate and maintain health and safety standards across Europe, the EU set up the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. The Agency has its base in Bilbao, Spain. Its purpose is to make every workplace in Europe healthier, safer and more productive. It also has a remit to spread the health and safety message.
Spreading this Safety MessageMany people will have seen the ways the Agency uses to communicate this message. Examples are direct campaigns in the media, and information on the Internet. One of the regular campaigns is the European Week for Safety and Health at Work. This usually occurs in October when there are various awareness-raising events across the continent. The theme for the health and safety week changes each year. In the past the themes have covered stress, accidents, and Hazardous Substances.
Best PracticeAs a result of such efforts, the Agency has developed a pool of information about health and safety best practice. The Agency divides this into industry sectors, priority groups and topics. The industry sectors include areas such as health care, construction and Commercial Fishing. The priority groups are young workers, women, disabled people, and small and medium-sized businesses. The health and safety topics include everything from general work-related accidents to specific health problems.
The Agency therefore brings together large amounts of data, best practice, legislation, statistics and research. Thanks to this, it’s possible to find out almost anything about occupational health and safety across Europe and to compare this to local issues. This makes the Agency a valuable resource as well as a useful guide to current EU law.