Keynote Address

Mr. Antonio Cammarota
Mr. Antonio Cammarota

Keynote Address

6th EU/US Joint conference on OSH
Boston, 22 September 2010

Dr Michaels,
Dr Wagner,
Distinguished colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased and very honored to give this keynote address on behalf of the European Union.

Our cooperation in the area of OSH has demonstrated to be a very fruitful and productive one all over these years. And we can now say that we know each other much better than it was ten years ago.

So you know very well the importance we assign in Europe to OSH policy. The European social model includes OSH as one of its main pillars.

  • First of all, as a right that all citizens of the Union should enjoy: the right to a safe and healthy workplace, which does not jeopardize or put hazards to their health and well-being. This right is one of the pillars of the Charter of fundamental rights, which has recently been incorporated into the new Treaty of Lisbon.
  • Secondly, as a key factor to the EU's efforts to more growth and jobs in the framework of the new EU 2020 strategy. It is clear that modern work organisation and a safe and healthy working environment are essential elements of the quality of work and key factors for raising employment, improving productivity and strengthening social cohesion.
  • Thirdly, as a fundamental condition to address what is in Europe today one of the greatest changes the society is undergoing: the demographic change, with its implications in terms of ageing of the population and workforce.

    In this regard, recent Eurostat projections show that:
    • The population in the EU-27 is expected to become older, with the median age rising from 40.4 years in 2008 to 47.9 years in 2060.
    • The proportion of persons aged 65 years or over in the total population will increase from 17.1% in 2008 to 30.0% in 2060. There were 4 persons of working age (15-64 years old) for every person aged 65 years or over in 2008. In 2060 there will be 2 persons of working age for every person aged 65 and over.

    On the other hand, the employment rate of older people (55-64) increased in the EU 27 from 36.5% in 1999 to 44.7% in 2007.

    In this framework, it is clear that effective OSH policies can play a crucial role in maximising each person's capacity to participate in the labour market and preventing any early exit from it.

All this explains why actions to help reduce the number of accidents and injuries at work and the harmonisation of the health and safety working conditions in the European Union remain high on the EU political agenda.

The indisputable success of the European policy on safety and health at work in the last decades is largely due to the adoption, transposition and application in the Member States of a large body of Community legislation. This has resulted in a considerable reduction of the incidence of work-related accidents and diseases.

As for the period 2000-2006, a reduction trend of 25% in the incidence of accidents at work was observed according to the harmonised data on accidents at work that are collected in the framework of the European Statistics on Accidents at Work (ESAW). It is also noteworthy that over the period of ten years from 1995 to 2005, the incidence rate of accidents at work in the EU-15 dropped by 27.4%, against 42.4% for fatal accidents.

However, in spite of the progress achieved, the EU still faces a number of challenges as regards occupational safety and health.

First of all, the burden of accidents and work-related ill-health is still high both in human, social and economic terms.

According to the most recent data available from Eurostat, in 2007 more than 5,500 people die in the European Union as a consequence of work-related accidents. Accident at work resulted in at least 67 million lost calendar days (not including the days off as a result of accidents with less than four days of absence), while among persons with a work-related health problem, the total number of calendar days of sickness absence summed up to a at least 367 million days.

The overall cost of the accidents at work to the EU economy in the most recent year for which detailed information is available (2000) is estimated to be around 55 billion EUR. The estimate corresponds to 0.64 % of the GDP for EU-15 in 2000. But this estimate only concerns accidents at work; non-accidental work-related health problems are not covered. From the macroeconomic perspective the total cost of accidents at work and occupational diseases in the EU-15 may range from 2.6 to 3.8 % of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Also, occupational hazards are still high for certain categories of workers (young, older, migrant workers, workers with insecure job), for certain types of companies (small and medium-sized enterprises are particularly exposed, accounting for 82% of all occupational injuries and 90% of all fatal accidents), and for certain sectors (construction, agriculture, transport and health care all present higher than average risks of accidents at work).

But on the other hand, it is also crucial to observe how changes in society and economy, which are linked to the acceleration of innovation, the demographic change and the transformation of work patterns, are affecting the nature of occupational hazards.

In particular, the impact of these changes needs to be faced, by taking account of new and emerging risks such as those relating to new technologies (i.e. nanomaterials) and to new forms of organisation of work (i.e. ergonomics, psychosocial risks).

For these reasons, the Commission considers that actions to improve standards of health and safety at work still have a large potential for gains to workers and employers, as well as to individuals and society as a whole in the EU.

Since the beginning of 2000, EU policy initiatives in the area of health and safety at work have been developed on the basis of multiannual strategic programmes intended to identify priority areas of intervention along with relevant objectives and actors.

To support the EU efforts towards a more effective prevention of occupational accidents and diseases, the European Commission has defined and adopted, in 2007, a new Community strategy on health and safety at work, covering the period until 2012.

This strategy, which continues the efforts deployed in the framework of the previous 2002-2006 Community strategy, intends to provide an integrated framework for Member States to deliver their national policies and for stakeholders and all actors in the field to promote more coordinated and coherent initiatives.

Its aim is to consolidate the common culture of risk prevention, which is the major achievement of the more than 40 year old history of OSH in the European Union. This culture is the fundamental basis for improving OSH performance in the long term, because only the development and maintaining of this culture can make sure that all actors in the field are fully involved and ready to cooperate.

In this regard, it is clear that legislation, while being the back stone and driving force for further improvement, is not sufficient on its own to produce changes in attitudes and behavioural patterns. It needs to be complemented by other policy tools and interventions designed to reinforce the impact of regulatory provisions and provide the suitable context for practical application and enforcement.

To this end, the new Community strategy on health and safety at work identifies a number of specific actions and tools, which include 1) the improvement, simplification and better implementation of the EU regulatory framework on OSH, 2) the development of coherent national strategies adjusted to the specific context of each Member State, 3) the better identification and assessment of potential new risks through more research, exchange of knowledge and best practice, 4) the development of new synergies between OSH policy and other national and European policy areas (education, public health, research), and 5) the further development of international cooperation on OSH (ILO, WHO, third countries).

This strategy also sets an ambitious goal for all Member States to achieve: an overall 25 % reduction in the total incidence rate of accidents at work by 2012.

The current EU strategy is undergoing a mid-term review, which the Commission will finalise, by the end of this year, through a specific Communication.

A conference organised in Barcelona in April 2010 by the European Commission in cooperation with the Spanish Presidency of the Council has provided a first overview of the main achievements of the first phase of implementation of the strategy. At the same time, it has also given us the opportunity to highlight areas where Improvement is necessary and more still needs to be done in the future.

Let me share with you some of these results.
First of all, as regards the main achievements during the period of reference 2007-2009, a number of initiatives in the area of legislation have been developed by the Commission in cooperation with the MS and social partners, in particular in the area of chemicals (third list of indicative occupational exposure limit values), ergonomics and WRMSDs, carcinogens, sharp injuries (hospital and healthcare sector).

Another successful area of implementation regards the setting up of national strategies on OSH. In this regard, the impact of the EU strategy has been really significant: the strategic approach is nowadays a consolidated reality in most of the EU MS: 25 out of 27 MS have currently a strategy (20) or comparable programmes or plans (5). Besides, 23 MS have set measurable targets, mainly on occupational accidents. But also goal oriented objectives are in some cases included. 21 MS also have formal procedures for the evaluation of national strategies.

A lot of work has been done in the last three years in this area. We have progressed a lot - not only in exchanging experience and good practice, but also in terms of knowledge about methods and theoretical implications of the strategic approach.

We know very clearly now that a strategy is not a simple work programme spread over several years. It needs to be based on a systematic evaluation of the national situation, which also takes account of the socio-economic context. It should also use performance indicators to monitor progress and time series to evaluate changes.

Strategic action is characterised by foresightedness and a clear procedural plan. In this context, the development of measurements and indicators should be seen as part of the whole process of framing, monitoring and reviewing the effectiveness of a strategy. But of course, we do not need to anticipate here what is going to be a subject of discussion in the framework of one of our workshops in the next two days …

In general, a first important conclusion we can take out from the results of our mid-term review is that effective implementation is the crucial issue for the success of a strategy.

Successful implementation requires consent from all actors but also effective mechanisms of coordination that are to be put in place.

The generalisation of the strategic approach, with a large majority of Member States that have been developing their national strategies based on the European strategy is one of these results, which come up from a voluntary process of coordination.

We need to intensify our efforts in this direction, knowing that a common preventive culture does not imply uniformity, but a common vision that would be inspirational to everybody in contexts that are different from each other.

Effective implementation also needs an effective process of monitoring and evaluation of progress, based on reliable indicators. This is certainly an area where improvement is necessary and more needs to be done in the future.

In 2007, the Government Interest Group (GIG) of the ACSH decided to launch a pilot initiative to develop a scoreboard, whose aim would be to illustrate the performance of the Member States in some specific areas of OSH national policies, according to the objectives provided by the Community strategy on health and safety at work 2007-2012.

The result of this initiative is the Scoreboard 2009, which collects the results of a survey conducted in the 27 EU Member States in May 2009. The Scoreboard - which is now available as a dedicated publication - is structured around six major topics: a) Statistics, b) National strategies, c) Occupational accidents, d) Work-related health problems and illnesses, e) Chemical agents and f) Preventive potential.

But effective implementation also requires providing appropriate tools for outreach and compliance. The EU experience in this area has developed very fruitfully in the last years through several initiatives ranging from the production of guidelines to the organisation of thematic campaigns, as for the EU-OSHA 2008-2009 European campaign on risk assessment, focused specifically on addressing the information needs of SMEs.

The campaign provided practitioners, employers, and workers with a diverse range of tools to support the risk assessment process, ranging from factsheets to a database of online risk assessment tools.

Risk assessment will also be discussed during this conference, and I am sure that we will have the opportunity to hear more about this subject in the course of the next two days.

I would like to conclude this note, by underlying the importance for the EU policy on OSH of another area that the European Strategy has identified as a priority sector for future developments: the international cooperation on OSH.

This cooperation has different aspects and components. First of all the bilateral cooperation, and in this framework - it goes without saying - the privileged relation with the US under the umbrella of the 1995 New Transatlantic Agenda. But this area is also expanding trough a number of new initiatives that the EU is developing with new international partners such as China, Japan and India.

Also the cooperation between the European Commission and the ILO has been recently stepped up significantly on a wide range of health and safety at work issues. Beside the promotion of ILO standards on OSH and the efforts to ensure their ratification by MS, this cooperation has been substantiated by specific actions such as the approval of Council Directive 2009/13/EC of 16 February 2009, which implements the Agreement concluded by the European Community Ship-owners' Associations (ECSA) and the European Transport Workers' Federation (ETF) on the ILO Maritime Labour Convention of 2006.

In the framework of the EU neighbourhood policy, successful negotiations have been carried out between the EU and Ukraine on an Enhanced agreement in which the Ukrainian part committed itself to gradually implement the EU acquis in the area of health and safety into its national legal order.

In this framework, it also needs to be mentioned the enlargement work relating to 3 Candidate Countries (Croatia, Turkey and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), and 5 Potential CCs (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo).

Let me conclude by expressing my wish that this 6th EU-US Joint Conference could really help us to further deepen our cooperation and to find out new opportunities for our future dialogue.

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for your attention.