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EU aims to improve health and safety for workers - 11/06/2014

A construction worker in a high visibility jacket and hard hat stands in a metro tunnel

The EU has announced plans to guarantee better working conditions and reduce work accidents in Europe.

More than 3 million people a year in the EU suffer serious accidents at work – defined as those resulting in more than 3 days' absence from work – and 4000 people a year die from such accidents. Almost a quarter of European workers say they believe their working conditions pose a threat to safety.

In addition to the clear human suffering caused, there is a serious economic cost: in Germany alone, sick leave results in an  estimated productivity loss of 3.1% of GDP each year. Accidents and illness also drive up social security costs.

A 2010 study shows that each euro invested in preventing work-related accidents produces a return in profits of between €1.29 and €2.89.

Improving working conditions

EU proposals to improve protection for workers include;

  • helping small businesses to comply with safety regulations
  • making sure that health and safety inspectors are working to a high standard
  • keeping on top of risks from new technologies and innovations, such as nanomaterials
  • taking into account the ageing of the European workforce
  • stepping up coordination of health and safety issues with the World Health Organisation and other international bodies.

EU funds will be available to help implement these actions, which are built on consultations with employers' and workers' organisations across Europe.

At the same time, however, the EU suggests simplifying existing regulations - where this can be done safely - to help reduce the administrative burden on business.

Past success

The 2007 – 2012 strategy, based on a shared framework for action across Europe that was tailored to individual countries' needs, reduced serious accidents at work by almost 30%.

In recent years, new regulations have helped protect European workers from exposure to chemical agents and electromagnetic fields.

Press release: health and safety at work 2014-2020

FAQs: health and safety at work

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