Work-related illness and accidents should be cut by a quarter across the EU under a new five-year strategy for health and safety at work, adopted by the European Commission. It follows a 17% reduction in fatal accidents from 2002-2004 and a 20% fall in accidents leading to absence from work of three days or more.
But progress remains uneven across different countries, sectors, companies and categories of workers. Changes in working life are leading to new occupational risks, while certain workplace illnesses are on the rise.
Vladimír Špidla, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, said: "Occupational illness and accidents at work are a heavy burden on both workers and employers in Europe. Every year there are 4 million accidents at work which represent enormous economic costs for the European economy. A considerable share of these costs falls upon social security systems and public finances."
"Improving the health and safety of workers is key to the EU's Growth and Jobs agenda," he added. "By bolstering productivity and quality at work, we will boost European growth and competitiveness."
The new strategy for 2007-2012 aims to achieve an overall 25% reduction of occupational accidents and diseases in the EU. It sets out a series of actions at European and national levels in the following main areas:
• Improving and simplifying existing legislation and enhancing its implementation in practice through non-binding instruments such as exchange of good practices, awareness-raising campaigns and better information and training;
• Defining and implementing national strategies adjusted to the specific context of each Member State. These strategies should target the sectors and companies most affected and fix national targets for reducing occupational accidents and illness;
• Mainstreaming of health and safety at work in other national and European policy areas (education, public health, research) and finding new synergies; and
• Better identifying and assessing potential new risks through more research, exchange of knowledge and practical application of results.