Welcome Address

Armindo Silva, Director EMPL/F

Armindo Silva

Welcome Address
6th US-EU Joint Conference on Occupational Safety and Health
Boston, 22 September 2010

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

It is a great pleasure for me to join all of you today here in Boston for the opening plenary session of this 6th US/EU Joint Conference on Occupational Safety and Health.

I wish to bring you personal greetings from Mr Lazlo Andor, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, and our Director-General Mr Robert Verrue. Both of them have asked me to extend to you their best wishes for a very lively and successful conference.

I would also like to thank the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the US Department of Labour for the very efficient organisation of this event and for hosting it in such a wonderful place.

In particular, let me single out for special thanks Mrs DeMesme-Gray and her team for their valuable help and assistance in making this sixth bilateral tripartite conference possible.

We are all grateful for your efforts to make things run smoothly and to create the best conditions for having a memorable event.

The conference we are opening today is the sixth of its kind, resulting from the implementation of the 1995 New Transatlantic Agenda in the field of occupational safety and health.

These meetings have set an important partnership in motion, providing all of us on both sides of the Atlantic with valuable opportunities for improving co-operation in this area of crucial importance.

The EU delegation present here today gathers about 50 representatives of national governments, trade unions, business organizations, and officials from the European Commission and the Bilbao agency. They came here because they all have something to contribute and to learn from you by sharing knowledge and experience.

But we also share a common goal to make US and European workplaces safer and healthier. We all know how the harsh economic and financial realities have made our mission more difficult and how we had to step up our efforts to mainstream health and safety policy objectives within the wider economic and social strategy.

The EU economies are struggling to exit the crisis and start a sustainable recovery at variable pace, but they are still confronted with uncertainties about the strength of global recovery. Fiscal austerity in several Member states is narrowing the margin of manoeuvre for innovative social policy and employment measures that are necessary to bring down the number of jobless people.

Against this difficult background the European Union has embraced a new strategic agenda for the next decade – the EU 2020 strategy. It aims at enhancing structural reform in Europe for achieving faster growth. But not any kind of growth. We want to shape the future of our economies in order to have in 10 years time more innovation, less energy consumption, less environmental damage, a more skilled and educated labour force and more social cohesion.

In order to reach these common goals we need to reinforce our methods of governance, and learn lessons from the recent past. Ambitious common EU targets, like increasing the employment rate to 75% of working age population or cutting the number of persons living in poverty by 20 million, are needed. But we must also ensure that all Member States are implementing the necessary reforms in time in order to reach these targets.

And we need to do better in coordinating budgetary policy and structural reform, in order to create favourable conditions for sustainable growth, and avoid a new risk of monetary and financial disturbances.

Health and safety policies have their full place in this new strategic agenda. Bringing down the rate of accidents and the incidence of work-related diseases is a goal in itself as it reduces human suffering. But it also makes sense in order to reach higher productivity, less absenteeism and ensure longer working lives.

Therefore, we shall maintain our policy course, underpinned by a three-tiered approach:

  • a solid legal framework setting binding minimum standards for all Member States;
  • a tripartite dialogue, closely involving the social partners, from the EU level down to company level;
  • a strategic vision promoting a preventive culture which is at the core of the current European Strategy on Health and Safety at Work 2007-2012.

International cooperation is playing an increasing role in our health and safety agenda, as new global players want to learn from our experience.

The cooperation with the US in this area will continue however to play a fundamental role for the EU. It is now well established and is grounded on a common system of values. Its tripartite profile has proved its value. It can be the source of useful exchange between policy makers and practitioners. We need to know what works in order to share effective approaches and better focus our efforts on behalf of working men and women on both continents. This is the reason why our commitment to partnering with our US counterparts remains steadfast.

As a result of our successful efforts in establishing ongoing dialogue and exchange of information, at this conference we shall hear updates on topics that were opened in the earlier 2007 meeting in Cascais, such as topic II on "OSH Strategic Approaches" and topic IV on "Safety and Health Knowledge Management".

As regards the other two topics, topic I on "Chemical Regulation and Control" is continuing a discussion launched seven years ago in Lemnos and further developed in Orlando, while topic III "Safety and Health Programmes (Risk Assessment)" is a fundamental area of discussion that we have already addressed in the past, even if not in a direct and programmatic way as it will be this time.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is in the spirit of this political commitment that I look forward to a fruitful and lively exchange during this three-day conference.

I thank you for your kind attention and I wish you a very pleasant and productive meeting.