EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work


The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TEFU) gives the EU and its Member States shared competence in the area of occupational safety and health. The treaty states that the EU is to encourage cooperation between Member States and adopt directives setting minimum requirements to improve the working environment to protect workers’ health and safety. EU action on occupational safety and health has been pursued over the years within a strategic policy framework that includes two key components: a comprehensive body of EU legislation covering the most significant occupational risks and providing common definitions, structures and rules; and a series of multiannual initiatives – action programmes between 1978 and 2002 and European strategies since 2002 – to identify priorities and common objectives, provide a framework for coordinating national policies and promote a holistic culture of risk prevention.

Background and status

Past EU health and safety at work strategies

In 2002, the Commission adopted its first strategy, taking a ‘global approach’ to well-being at work – that is, taking account of changes in the world of work and the emergence of new risks, especially of a psychosocial nature. It was based on consolidating a culture of risk prevention, combining a variety of instruments (legislation, social dialogue, best practices and economic incentives) and building partnerships between all the players on the health and safety scene.

In 2007, the Commission published its second strategy, aiming for a 25% reduction in the total incidence rate of accidents at work in the EU by 2012 by improving health and safety protection for workers. To achieve this goal, the strategy proposed policies such as the proper implementation of EU legislation, supporting small and medium-sized enterprises, promoting the development of national strategies and developing methods for identifying emerging risks.

The third strategy, issued in June 2014, was the Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2014–2020. It identified strategic objectives for health and safety at work in the EU, set out key actions to protect the health and safety of workers and identified policies to achieve the goals of the framework. The framework identified three major challenges for health and safety at work.

  1. Improving the implementation of existing health and safety regulations, in particular by enhancing the capacity of micro- and small enterprises to put in place effective and efficient risk prevention strategies.
  2. Improving the prevention of work-related diseases by tackling new and emerging risks without neglecting existing risks.
  3. Taking account of the ageing of the EU’s workforce.

EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2021–2027

On 28 June 2021, the European Commission presented a new strategic framework. This framework provides an overview of future actions to be taken by the EU to cut the number of workplace accidents (from 3,300 fatal accidents and 3.1 million non-fatal accidents per year) and the number of workers who die each year from work-related illnesses (from 200,000 per year). Although the number of fatal workplace accidents decreased by about 70% between 1994 and 2018, the rate of reduction has slowed significantly since 2009. One of the objectives set out in the strategic framework is to develop a Vision Zero approach to minimise work-related deaths. The Commission is rolling out a series of initiatives, some of which are legislative and binding while others involve social partner cooperation or funding research and communication campaigns.

With regard to legislative interventions, the Commission has announced that it will revise the following directives in the light of increased digitalisation and teleworking by 2023:

To tackle occupational illnesses, the Commission plans to either set or reduce certain exposure limit values: asbestos, lead and diisocyanates in 2022 and cobalt in 2024. The emphasis is on substances to which workers will be exposed in the context of the ecological transition (when working on thermal renovation, with electric batteries, etc.).

The Commission is also updating the EU rules on dangerous substances, with a view to reducing the rates of cancer and reproductive and respiratory diseases. It therefore plans to launch a consultation of social partners on revisions to the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive in 2023, and to identify a priority list of reprotoxic substances. The impact of digitalisation will be tackled through an awareness-raising campaign, addressing musculoskeletal disorders and psychosocial risks. Related to this, the European social partners are due to assess emerging issues linked to mental health at work and to put forward guidance for action by the end of 2022.

Related dictionary terms

Health and safety occupational accidents and diseases protective equipment risk assessment working environment European Agency for Safety and Health at Work Framework Directive on health and safety carcinogens directive revision

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