S P E E C H;

Felipe Manzano Sanz,
spokesman for the European Union Employers' Organization
at the Second US-EU Joint Conference on occupational health
held in San Francisco (California)

Felipe Manzano Sanz

15 November 2000

It is a great honour for me to address you on behalf of the employers' organisations of the European Union at this second joint conference of the European and North American institutions on occupational health and safety.

It is also a great pleasure for me to be here in San Francisco, the city of the renowned "Golden Gate Bridge", which could serve as a symbol of union between the delegations from the two sides of the Atlantic.

I would also like to thank both the US and the European Commission conference organisers for their excellent work and warm welcome.

This conference is seen by the Employers' Interest Group of the European Commission's Advisory Committee for Health, Hygiene and Safety at Work and by its coordinating body, the Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe (UNICE) working group on safety and health as a magnificent opportunity to exchange experience both at the conference workshop sessions and during what will no doubt be highly constructive discussions on technical and legal matters between the employers', trade union, governmental, European Institution and USA Federal Institution representatives over the next few days.

While structures no doubt vary considerably on the two sides of the Atlantic, health and safety problems at work are frequently the same, even if the approaches to solving them differ.

Health and safety at work is a priority for the Employers' Interest Group within the European Commission's Advisory Committee, and for all the employers' organisations in the European Union, represented by UNICE, as is demonstrated by our document in English and French entitled "Occupational Safety and Health -- a priority for employers" which has also been adopted and circulated in some of UNICE's member confederations, notably the Spanish Confederation of Employers' Organisations (ConfederaciĆ³n EspaƱola de Organizaciones Empresariales -- CEOE) of which I am a member.

This document, which I am showing you now and which you can consult in detail at Internet site www.unice.org is intended to inform, educate and, especially, to increase awareness among employers as the key players in occupational risk prevention.

Because we believe that developing a prevention culture is the key element in a medium and long-term strategy to incorporate occupational health and safety effectively into all workplaces. Appropriate education and training and campaigns to increase awareness of the risks are important ways of doing this.

We also believe that close attention must be paid to the emergence of new occupational risks and changes in the nature of those risks without easing up on prevention of more traditional hazards. UNICE recommends an exchange of best practice in this area.

Employers' organisations in the EU recognise the need for and importance of a legislative framework for protecting health and safety at work, which is an area in which the European legislature has been particularly active and in which there is a particularly substantial body of legally binding acts.

As you will no doubt be aware, the so-called "framework Directive" 89/391 adopted in 1989 lays down the general principles of occupational risk prevention and, together with its daughter directives, deals with the known risks and enables effective prevention systems to be set up. It is supplemented by a series of directives on machine safety aimed principally at marketing, and by a great many technical standards for work equipment and personal protective equipment issued by the European Committee for Standardisation.

In UNICE's view, it is a question now of assessing how the legislation is being applied in practice in each Member State of the European Union.

And for practical implementation at the workplace, priority should now be given to establishing supportive instruments such as guidelines, practical guides or handbooks of best practice. Such aids can be extremely effective in increasing awareness of the emergence of "new" risks, the most prominent being stress and musculo-skeletal disorders, for which specific legislation would be ineffective.

It is in the establishment of or familiarisation with such instruments that the exchange of documents and experience between the various employers', trade union, government, federal and institutional bodies in Europe and the United States can be most constructive.

On a slightly different note, consideration must be given to the economic and social impact of occupational health and safety legislation. This is essential if an occupational risk prevention system is to be set up which can maintain a high level of worker protection while being realistic in economic terms, particularly in respect of employment.

At the same time, however, the employer is the main protagonist in occupational risk prevention. Being ultimately responsible for organisation within the undertaking, he is therefore also responsible for the impact of its decisions on worker health and safety. UNICE considers this principle, established in the European Union by the framework directive, to be well-founded.

However, if he is to exercise that responsibility fully, the employer must be in a position to choose the preventive measures best suited to the characteristics of the undertaking and to implement a system guaranteeing the health and safety of his workers while promoting the undertaking's competitiveness.

UNICE is concerned at the increase in initiatives intended to standardise occupational health and safety management systems at European Union, Member State or international level. The reason for that concern is that standardisation does not have the same relevance or scope when it comes to health and safety at work as it does for other aspects of company management, such as serious accidents or quality.

Where health and safety at work is concerned, developing systematic management analysis geared to the specific needs of individual companies or organisations is much more important than pouring considerable resources into establishing standardised, pre-defined systems which require external certification without necessarily guaranteeing any improvement in working conditions.

In UNICE's view, there is no system of risk prevention management which can be applied universally to all undertakings, independently of size, sector and the risks specific to their activities. Health and safety management systems must be tailored to the specific structural and operational characteristics of the undertaking concerned and must be flexible enough to be adapted to any changes in the undertaking's organisation or size.

In other words, in our opinion there are as many health and safety management systems as there are undertakings.

UNICE therefore considers that occupational health and safety management must be incorporated into the organisation's general management system and that systematic analysis is a precondition for establishing the high degree of health and safety provided for in European Union and Member State legislation.

UNICE further considers that such systematic analysis will enable managers to align occupational risk prevention with other associated systems such as environmental risk management and quality assurance systems.

In my opinion these are also matters for analysis and discussion between the United States and European delegations.

Finally, I would like to add that the real and universal challenge lies in developing a general culture of health awareness in all life situations, taking in the multiple risks to which individuals are likely to be exposed.

Risk prevention must become an automatic reflex, more or less second nature. Personally, I believe this to be a question of personal attitude but which can be influenced collectively by the public authorities and trade union and employers' associations. In other words, each individual, each worker, each undertaking must subscribe to this health and safety ethos and act accordingly.

So, controlling health and safety hazards must be recognised as an essential feature of everyday life. And this, as I said before, is a question of education, training and promoting awareness of the risks and how to prevent them.

Training itself should be based on two fundamental principles:

  • The first is that training must be targeted not only at the working population, but also at children and young people of school age, and future workers as part of their vocational training.
  • Secondly, health and safety related matters must not be treated as a separate issue but should be included in syllabuses and training activities, independently of the obligatory training provided for health and safety professionals.

Awareness raising should take the form of promotional campaigns followed by publication of information by various means, concentrating first and foremost on awareness of the causes of accidents and developing attitudes conducive to health and safety.

At the workshops on ergonomics, health and safety management systems, workers' rights and participation and small and medium-sized enterprises, the European employers' organisations ideas on the subject will be explained. You are invited to discuss these objectively along with those of the other delegations.

Health and safety at work requires the commitment of everybody involved and I am quite sure that we will all be able to take inspiration from the ideas and points of view put forward at this United States and European joint conference. Thank you very much for your attention.

Felipe Manzano Sanz
San Francisco (CA) USA
15 November 2000