Health and safety at work is one of the areas where the EU has had the biggest impact – with a solid legal framework covering the maximum number of risks with the minimum number of regulations.
As set out by principle 10 of the European Pillar of Social Rights, workers have the right to a high level of protection of their health and safety at work, as well as the right to a working environment adapted to their professional needs and which enables them to prolong their participation in the labour market.
Article 153 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union gives the EU the authority to adopt legislation (directives) in the field of safety and health at work, in order to support and complement the activities of Member States.
Directive 89/391/EEC, the so-called OSH “Framework Directive”, lays down the main principles to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work. It guarantees minimum safety and health requirements throughout Europe while Member States are allowed to maintain or establish more stringent measures.
The Framework Directive is accompanied by further directives focusing on specific aspects of safety and health at work. Together they form the fundamentals of European safety and health legislation. Read more about specific OSH areas of activity.
Click below for an overview of OSH legislation:
- Framework Directive (Directive 89/391/EEC)
- Workplace requirements (Directive 89/654/EEC)
- Work equipment (Directive 2009/104/EC)
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) (Directive 89/656/EEC)
- Safety and/or health signs at work (Directive 92/58/EEC)
- Manual handling of loads (back injury) (Directive 90/269/EEC)
- Display screen equipment (Directive 90/270/EEC)
- Risks related to chemical agents at work (Directive 98/24/EC)
- Exposure to carcinogens or mutagens at work (Directive 2004/37/EC)
- Exposure to asbestos at work (Directive 2009/148/EC)
- Exposure to biological agents at work (Directive 2000/54/EC)
- Prevention from sharp injuries in the hospital and healthcare sector (Directive 2010/32/EU)
- Risks from explosive atmospheres (Directive 1999/92/EC)
- Risks arising from vibration (Directive 2002/44/EC)
- Risks arising from noise (Directive 2003/10/EC)
- Risks arising from artificial optical radiation (Directive 2006/25/EC)
- Risks arising from electromagnetic fields (Directive 2013/35/EU)
- Temporary or mobile construction sites (Directive 92/57/EEC)
- Medical treatment on board vessels (Directive 92/29/EEC)
- Work on board fishing vessels (Directive 93/103/EC)
- Mineral-extracting industries (Directive 92/104/EEC)
- Mineral-extracting industries through drilling (Directive 92/91/EEC)
- Fixed-duration or temporary employment relationship (Directive 91/383/EEC)
- Pregnant and breastfeeding workers (Directive 92/85/EEC)
- Young people at work (Directive 94/33/EEC)
Evaluation OSH legislation (2007-2012)
Every five years, the Commission is required to evaluate the practical implementation of the OSH legal framework. The first ex-post evaluation (part of the ongoing EU REFIT programme) covered the period 2007 to 2012 and addressed the implementation of the Framework Directive and 23 related directives.
The main results of the ex-post evaluation of the implementation of the OSH framework have been described in a Commission Staff Working Document. It confirms that the EU legislation in the field of health and safety at work is generally effective and fit-for-purpose, but that there are challenges to be addressed with a view to improvising its performance.
External studies on the basis of the evaluation of the OSH legislation are:
- Evaluation of the practical implementation of the EU occupational safety and health (OSH) directives in EU Member States - Main report (2017)
- Evaluation of the practical implementation of the EU occupational safety and health (OSH) directives in EU Member States - Executive summary (2017)
- Evaluation of the practical implementation of the EU occupational safety and health (OSH) directives in EU Member States - Synthesis report (2017)
- Evaluation of the practical implementation of the EU occupational safety and health (OSH) directives in EU Member States – Individual directive reports (2017)
- Evaluation of the practical implementation of the EU occupational safety and health (OSH) directives in EU Member States – Country summary reports (2017)
Strategic and policy framework
To better protect workers in the EU from work-related accidents and diseases, the European Commission has adopted various policy strategic documents:
- The Commission Communication "Safer and Healthier Work for All - Modernisation of the EU Occupational Safety and Health Legislation and Policy", adopted on January 2017, proposes key actions in specific OSH priority areas.
- The Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2014-2020 identifies key challenges and strategic objectives for health and safety at work, presents key actions and describes instruments to address these.
- Community Strategy on Health and Safety at Work 2007-2012: Improving quality and productivity at work.
- The Community Strategy on Health and Safety at Work 2002-2006: Adapting to change in work and society.
The European Commission works closely together with the following agencies to disseminate information, offer guidance and promote safe and healthy working environments:
- European Agency for Health and Safety at Work (EU-OSHA)
- European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound)
Committees consisting of experts, national representatives and/or social partners representatives, contribute to developing, implementing and monitoring EU legislation on health and safety at work:
- Advisory Committee on Safety and Health at Work (ACSH)
- Senior Labour Inspectors Committee (SLIC)
- Committee for Risk Assessment (RAC) of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA)
- Scientific Committee on Occupational Exposure Limits (SCOEL)
Data and statistics
The following sources provide useful information on data and key statistics concerning health and safety at work:
- Eurostat - Health and safety at work
- Eurostat – Accidents at work & Work-related health problems
- EU-OSHA – OSHwiki / OSH statistics
- EU-OSHA – European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER)
- EU-OSHA – The economics of occupational safety and health
- EU-OSHA – European opinion polls on safety and health at work
- Eurofound – European Working Conditions Surveys (EWCS)
- Flash Eurobarometer 398 – Working conditions