Mr Armindo SILVA
Director DG EMPL/B

Keynote Address

7th EU/US Joint conference on OSH
Brussels, 11 July 2012

Distinguished Assistant Secretary, Dear
Guests from the US, Ladies and

I am very pleased and honored to give this keynote address on behalf of the European Commission. I shall try to give to our guests a broad picture of where we stand in the EU on OSH policy - how we see our main challenges, what is our strategic approach, how we connect it with the wider Strategy for growth and jobs, and what policy priorities we are currently pursuing.

OSH Policy in the EU has a solid underpinning in the Treaty, in our Charter of Fundamental Rights and in a large body of Community legislation. It has been developed on the basis of a tested system of tripartite cooperation involving national governments, trade unions and business representatives working at EU level, and fully involving national affiliates.

We have reasons to believe that this policy has contributed decisively to reduce the incidence of work-related accidents and diseases in Europe. Data from a 2009 survey across all Member States show a consistent 3- and 10-year reduction trend in the number of accidents at work and an increasing awareness of the importance of a systematic approach to OSH prevention.


In spite of the progress achieved, it is clear the EU still faces a number of challenges as regards occupational safety and health and the quality of working environment.

  • Absolute figures remain unacceptably high. The most recent official data from Eurostat, show that more than 5,500 people died in the European Union in 2007 as a consequence of work-related accidents, almost 3% of workers had a serious accident at work with more than three days of absence and no less than 8.6% of the workers - which corresponds to 23 million people in the EU - reported a work-related health problem.
  • The rate of work-related musculoskeletal disorders is still increasing in many Member States, and so is the rate of work-related stress.
  • Exposure to chemical agents show a downwards trend for some occupational diseases such as silicosis, allergies and skin diseases, but an upwards trend for others such as mesothelomia, very likely due to the long term latency of ill-health problems due to the exposure to asbestos.
  • New risks are arising that need to be tackled, in particular in the area of new technologies (e.g. nano-materials, genetic engineering and synthetic biology) and new occupations (e.g. green economy).
  • Last but not least - the demographic challenge, with its implications in terms of ageing of the population and work force and on the medium term , the probable reduction of the workforce. This calls for a serious consideration of the role of OSH policies to ensure a sustainable working life and active and healthy ageing after retirement.

[Strategic approach]

The nature of the challenges facing us require from governments, social partners and EU institutions a continuous effort to reinforce and adapt our policy framework.

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

This strategic approach has now become a standard feature of EU

OSH policy as there is a growing consensus that it has provided the appropriate framework for:

  • Exchanging experience and good practice, identifying common indicators and targets, to developing common initiatives to counter older and new risks.
  • Improving the Member States' capacity to implement OSH policies according to EU priorities so as to ensure not only a better application of national OSH provisions but also a more consistent approach to OSH policy at EU level.
  • Developing a common and coherent framework for action, encouraging all actors in the field to coordinate their efforts and deliver their specific contributions.

The current EU strategy on OSH, adopted in 2007, will expire at the end of this year. A mid-term review of this strategy was published last year. A final evaluation exercise is currently under way - final results will be available at the end of this year.

This will provide the basis for the development of a new EU strategy on OSH for the period between 2013 and 2020.

A conference organised by the European Commission and the Danish Presidency of the Council in Copenhagen last June has provided a first overview of the main results of the final evaluation of the current strategy.

Let me share with you some of these results.

A first interesting outcome is that the European strategy on OSH has been particularly successful in those Member States where occupational safety and health systems are less comprehensive. This means that it has contributed to increasing convergence in performance levels.

Secondly, the European strategy has helped policy makers to put OSH high on national political agendas and a fondamental driver for the development of national strategies. Now out of the 27 Member States, 24 have their own national strategy.

Such national strategies include measures to:

  • strengthen the implementation of OSH legislation,
  • simplify the legislative framework and adapt it to change,
  • encourage changes in behaviour and promoting a preventive culture,
  • identify and evaluate new risks.

Thirdly, most stakeholders feel that efforts at EU level should focus more closely on the needs of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises. In many areas, implementation of EU rules is considered to be excessively complex and burdensome, and we must find ways to prove how rewarding investment in risk management can be even for micro and SMEs.

Finally, the preliminary results of the evaluation show that most stakeholders attach high importance to a EU strategy for occupational health and safety and would like to see a new Strategy being developed. Strategic forward-planning is needed to provide a coherent framework for action for all actors involved. Here again the EU role is crucial as a driver for effective and consistent actions across all Member States.

[Wider Strategy for growth and jobs]

However, a new strategy for work-related health and safety cannot be delineated in isolation from the current economic and employment situation.

We cannot forget for instance that the EU economy is going through a mild recession in 2012, with stagnation of real GDP, and that the recovery is forecast to set in slowly only from the second half of the year onwards. Unemployment is expected to remain at historically high levels at 10.3%.

In line with the slowdown in economic activity, employment is projected to contract by 0.2% in the EU in 2012. The expected return of growth should lead to a gradual improvement of labour markets in 2013, which will in tum contribute to a more sustained recovery.

Under a continuously uncertain economic and financial outlook, it is necessary more than ever to assess carefully the overall economic and social impact of OSH policy. On the other hand, we should highlight the important contribution that OSH policies can give to sustainable growth based on a high productivity economy.

Since 2010 the Union has its own strategy to support the efforts of the EU economies to exit the crisis and start a sustainable recovery. The Europe 2020 Strategy aims at enhancing structural reform in Europe for achieving smarter, greener and more inclusive growth.

The goal is to shape the future of the EU economies in order to have more innovation, less energy consumption, less environmental damage, a more skilled and educated labour force and more social cohesion. Ambitious common EU targets, like increasing the employment rate for men and women to 75% of working age population or reducing the number of persons living in poverty by 20 million, have been set.

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 and less absenteeism.

  • EU companies depend for their survival and expansion on a committed workforce, thriving in a high-quality working environment, with safe and healthy working conditions.
  • Good health is good business: greater investment in workplace prevention contributes to improved economic performance of enterprises and to the sustainability of social security systems.
  • Against the background of an ageing workforce in Europe, health and safety policies are fundamental to allow workers to stay longer and healthier in the labour market.

We need therefore a new Strategy to ensure continuity to the EU action on OSH policy. The Commission will on the basis of the publication of the results of the final evaluation of the current Strategy launch a public consultation and will propose next year a new Strategy for OSH covering the period from 2013 to 2020.

[Policy priorities]

In parallel, the Commission will pursue its policy priorities in the field of OSH for the remainder of 2012 and in 2013:

  • Last year we proposed to amend the Directive on protection of workers exposed to electromagnetic fields. We have good reasons to expect a new Directive to be adopted before the deadline of October 2013;
  • We are currently finalising the preparatory work in view of a new proposal for a Directive to prevent musculoskelettal disorders across a wide range of bio-mechanic factors.
  • We are also finalising a proposal to adapt our OSH legislation to the consequences of the new system for classification, labelling and packaging of chemical substances;
  • We intend to consult social partners on measures to protect workers from the exposure to environmental tobacco smoke in the work place;
  • We shall make progress in examining and assessing the impact of several options to revise the Carcinogens Directive;
  • And last, but not least, the Commission will continue to support the activity of EU social partners in their role as proponents of new legislation on health and safety. In this regard I would like to stress in particular the important agreements on working conditions in maritime transport and the hospital sector, that have given origin to Directives, as well the recent agreement on working conditions in the hairdresser sector, which is being examined by the Commission with the same purpose.

I hope that I have been able to offer to you a thorough view of our problems and challenges, but also of some achievements and goals. I am sure that there is in all this a lot to be shared with our US partners. We need to know what works on both sides of the Atlantic in order to share effective approaches and better focus our efforts.

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

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for your attention.