The consultation seeks to establish a strategic framework aimed at ensuring high standards of protection for workers.

By Paul A. Davies and Michael D. Green

On 7 December 2020, the European Commission (EC or the Commission) launched a public consultation (the Consultation) on the new EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work for 2021-2027 (the Framework). The Consultation follows a Roadmap adopted by the EC in October 2020 and builds on the feedback received following the Roadmap’s consultation and regarding occupational safety and health (OSH) factors.

Key Issues

As highlighted by the Roadmap that preceded the Consultation, the Framework aims to maintain and improve “high OSH standards for workers across the Union”. This is perceived as being of fundamental importance in order to further a strong social Europe, as recently called for by Ursula von Der Leyen in her state of the union address. The Framework seeks to address new risks, “such as those resulting from new ways of working, new technologies and digitalisation and COVID-19 pandemic alongside the more traditional ones, such as exposure to dangerous substances and risk of accidents at work”, as the Roadmap states. Today too many workers still fall victim to accidents at work, resulting in work-related illnesses that have a marked economic impact, in addition to the negative impact on workers’ professional development. The Framework thus seeks to improve productivity and prevent unnecessary health costs as well as reduce public spending in this regard. Lastly, the Framework seeks to improve Europe’s preparedness to face new OSH crisis and threats, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

In terms of scope, the Framework will outline the roles and responsibilities of each level and relevant actor, such as Member States, national authorities, and social partners and will also detail how different stakeholders are to work together.

The Consultation

The Consultation contains a series of questions aimed at informing the direction of development of the Framework. The most important issues investigated refer to:

  • Workers’ health and safety. The Consultation assesses whether sufficient action has been taken since 2014 by each stakeholder, including the EC, the European Parliament, national authorities, or employers.
  • Future priorities. The Consultation seeks to assess what the future priorities should be when setting out the new legislative instrument. Listed priorities refer to improving statistical data, simplifying existing legislation, better coordination with other institutions, and facilitating enforcement and compliance.
  • COVID-19. The Consultation asks whether the pandemic has increased or decreased the importance of OSH-related policies such as: infectious disease prevention measures, teleworking/remote working, work-related psycho-social risks, coordination among Member States in tackling the coronavirus outbreak, and effective measures for vulnerable groups of workers.
  • Future challenges. The Consultation looks toward the key challenges in the 2021-2027 period, asking respondents to select answers from a list of the options, including: increased working from home, preparedness for future threats, risks emerging from climate/environmental change, ergonomic risks, and risks arising from digitalisation. Respondents are also asked to suggest practical solutions to the challenges identified above.

Future Steps

The Consultation will close on 01 March 2021, with the Commission set to adopt the Framework in the second quarter of 2021. Latham & Watkins will continue to monitor developments in this area.

This post was written with the assistance of Sabina Aionesei in the London office of Latham & Watkins.