Framework Directive on health and safety


On 12 June 1989, the first and probably the most important directive providing for minimum requirements concerning health and safety at work under Article 118a was adopted: Framework Directive 89/391/EEC on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work. The overall aim of the directive is to ensure a higher degree of protection of workers at work through the implementation of preventive measures to guard against accidents at work and occupational diseases, and through the information, consultation, balanced participation and training of workers and their representatives.


Prior to the adoption of the framework directive, Member States had to comply with specific directives on, for instance, noise and asbestos. However, implementation of the Framework Directive requires a much more active approach to health and safety and far more changes to broaden the scope of Member States' national legislation. As an example, it has been an innovation to many Member States that requirements must be followed to protect workers in the public sector. New working environment problems (repetitive strain injuries, eyesight problems caused by VDUs, etc.) have arisen as a result of automation and the introduction of new technology.

Four central features characterise the Framework Directive on health and safety. First, the scope of EC law on health and safety is not constrained by the traditional concept of accidents and disease at work. Rather, it is characterised by an overall view of the working environment. The framework directive expressly refers to ‘the safety and health of workers in every aspect related to the work’ (Article 5(11)). It covers not only physical risks, but risks of stress and well-being arising from work organisation and job content.

Second, EC law on health and safety rarely imposes general detailed standards, but leaves space for the taking into account of diversity and specific conditions. The instrument of the directive defines the objectives but leaves it up to the Member States to decide on the means to achieve these objectives. Moreover, it often leaves a role for collective bargaining and collective agreements to ensure that the formulation of health and safety standards is adapted to particular conditions, as exemplified by the Working Time directive. Rather than imposing general and/or more or less specific and detailed standards regarding the organisation of working time compatible with health and safety, the Working Time directive systematically delegates to the social partners, the workers and managements concerned the task of elaborating the relevant standards.

The third feature is the strategy of the directive. The approach of EC law to health and safety at work may be characterised as preventative through the specific and innovative mechanism of risk assessment.

Finally, the fourth feature involves EC law’s insistence on the intensive participation of workers in the implementation and enforcement of the law through safety representatives.

Taken together, these characteristic features of the EC law on health and safety, as they must be implemented in national laws, play a role in the Europeanisation of regulation of the working environment.

See also: working environment.


Please note: the European industrial relations dictionary is updated annually. If errors are brought to our attention, we will try to correct them.


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